Project Sizing: Estimating Needs and Allocating Resources

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Image of rulers on a notepad demonstrating the concept of project sizing.

Every useful set of project management practices must account for variations in project size. In project terms, "size" is an all encompassing designation, used to quantify the overall "extent" of the project effort, usually accounting for duration, cost, complexity, staffing requirements and related parameters.  This allows projects to be characterized in comparative terms (small, medium or large).  Read on to learn more.

Size designations put projects in perspective - used to determine the extent and degree to which structured management methodologies must be applied for any given project.  Project management practices are meant to ensure that projects can be completed in a structured fashion - on time, on budget and producing expected results.

But the process should never be allowed to overtake the project.

As such, project size variations must be considered as management practices are developed and applied. (Also Read: Preparing Project Governance Plans).  Project size is a key management variable addressed as part of "project definition".

Project "Size" Defines Process "Scope"

When it comes to projects and practices, one size may not fit all.  Project size is a determining factor of "process scope", most simply defined as the degree and extent to which project management practices are formally applied.

Project sizing is a "must consider factor" for project planning, ensuring that plans and activities are relevant, and that resources are properly used and allocated. This is particularly important in the multi-project environment, where simultaneous projects must compete for funds and human resources.

t is unwise and impractical to take a "one size fits all" approach to managing projects. Small project methodologies would never fit a large scale project, and any small project would easily be overtaken by the weight of overly detailed procedures and practices.


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How "Big" is That Project?

In practical application, project "size" is determined by multiple factors, but at the highest level, projects are typically viewed in standard sizing terms - large, medium and small. That said, as always, the devil is in the details, and what constitutes a "large, medium or small" project will vary. Many factors go into project sizing, including estimated duration, resource requirements, budget, complexity, risk, visibility and related matters. Sizing frameworks should be established to define each "sizing factor" according to each project size.

For example, for a project to be considered "small", it must last no more than (3) months, cost no more than $50,000, require no more than (5) dedicated resources and have low visibility and risk.

While size definitions may not be the same for every organization, it is important to establish sizing guidelines for use as actionable benchmarks for planning and analysis.  (Also Read:  Defining Project Scope)

Making the Process Fit the Project

Size definitions are an important start, but are only "a start". Any useful set of project management practices must account for variations in methodology according to "project size". Size appropriate methodologies can be defined according to the following variables:

  • Applicability: Is the process appropriate to the project?
  • Formality: If the process is appropriate, what is the required level of "formality"?
  • Flexibility: How much flexibility will be allowed?
  • Documentation: What types of documents will be required?
  • Detail: What level of detail will be required in any documents?

To develop effective sizing guidelines, you must be prepared to identify specific measurement variables of project size, as well as the specific criteria to be applied within each variable category. These "criteria" will create the thresholds upon which size is determined and applied.  The "sizing" process is part science and art. Every project has a mind of its own, and may not always fit neatly into specific size categories. As such, it is best to apply sizing guidelines at multiple levels, ensuring that all variations and nuances are considered.

As a practice, “project sizing” begins in the “selection” stage, when projects are first proposed and selected according to established viability criteria. When it comes to project fast tracking, sizing is essential to adapt appropriate management practices (and achieve optimizing benefits). Sizing is also critical to determine and negotiate realistic project priorities. And, of course, sizing continues throughout the project lifecycle as changes occur.


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