In most instances, we think about innovation coming in the form of huge, earth-shaking projects like the iPhone, or the ongoing moonshot projects that are aimed at finding a cure for cancer.
These are all worthy projects and great ambitions to focus on, but for so many of us they are also projects that don’t come along very often.
This can do a few things to us. For a business, it can make you feel like without some big breakthrough that you are in trouble. For a team, not having a big project to focus on can make them feel underappreciated. For our sense of the possible, it can often be demoralizing because if we are always throwing the Hail Mary, more often than not we are going to be met by failure even if you did a great deal of good along the way.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen many nonprofits embrace the concept of micro-projects as ways to show progress, deliver real impact in a short time frame, and control resources in a way that is beneficial to donors, the organization, and the communities that they serve.
When you think about it in those terms, the question becomes: How do I sign up for managing micro-projects?
Here’s a little primer for using micro-projects to push your organization forward.
What Exactly Is A Micro-Project?
The simplest definition for a micro-project is a short-term effort that is meant to tackle a specific idea, activity, or challenge that is limited in scope.
This means that not only can these micro-projects be stand alone in nature, but they are effective building blocks for larger projects as well.
When used as jumping off points for a larger project, you gain a few important benefits:
- You can see what happens when a team works together.
- Understand why the team works or it doesn’t.
- Identify and test new ways of delivering work.
- Learn lessons that might help the project move forward.
No matter if you decide to use micro-projects because of a bigger project or just as a way to control resources and gain momentum, the key idea behind the micro-project is that it is limited in the amount of commitment you make. Which enables you to see results sooner or to cut your losses more quickly. And, in our modern economy where businesses struggle to maintain a competitive advantage, that is a really good position to put yourself in.
Micro-Projects Can Deliver Great Innovations
The challenge for many leaders and organizations when they consider setting aside resources for micro-projects is they feel like they may be trimming their sails a little bit, undermining their ambitions.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider the example of charity: water. You probably know them from one of your friends donating their birthday to help get water to people that don’t have it somewhere in the world. Which is their mission: getting water to communities that don’t have access to fresh drinking water.
What I want to show you is an organization that uses micro-projects to really change the world and drive results for their organization, their donors, and their customers.
In the last 11 years, Charity: Water has used 24,537 micro-projects to help over 7.3 million people gain access to clean drinking water.
That’s real impact.
How do their micro-projects work?
The process they use is simple.
It begins by planning: choosing their projects based on a combination of location and need helps find partners that are willing to buy-in and commit to making the project a success.
From there, the organization implements using best practices that they have developed from almost 25,000 projects. This enables them to set a realistic budget, timelines, and partner with local governments to give the project the most likelihood of success.
Once the water project is built, they have built in a maintenance and monitoring feature that enables them to track and ensure sustainability for their water projects.
Finally, they map it. Which just means that they have set up a Google Map of all the completed projects so that their donors can see all of the places they are having a positive impact. Which is vital for continuing growth and success.
But the big question for many of you is likely, “How can we do something like this in our organization?”
Anyone Can Use Micro-Projects
Implementing your own micro-project can be challenging. But let’s try to set up a simple format that you can use as a way to tackle some small projects or challenges.
Let’s begin by setting up a framework to work from. The simplest way to think about the micro-project framework is like this:
- Next Steps
In the earlier example of charity: water, we saw that their planning consisted of picking a location, picking partners, and gaining commitment. For any business these are good jumping off points.
Depending on the nature of your project and your business, a your planning process might look something like this:
- Pick an action, activity, or goal to work on.
- Find the right resources for your project: people, tools, etc.
- Build a schedule with a timeline, outcomes, and other relevant milestones.
To implement your micro-project, there are a number of steps you could take to bring your project in successfully. As these types of micro-projects are new to your team, a bit of flexibility is a necessity.
A few key things to keep in mind, every project is built off the back of other similar projects, even when you are doing something entirely new. So you want to look at projects of a similar nature or pieces of projects of similar natures so that you can implement best practices.
- Even if you are doing something entirely new, there is likely a starting point for you that will enable you to not write your project from a completely blank slate. Look for those resources.
- Keep to your schedule and your resources allocations. As with any project, momentum and managing the money are often big drivers of progress or failure. Manage them very closely to ensure that you keep your momentum. The key-deciding factor for most of your micro-projects, especially early on, is going to be likelihood of success and positive impact. So make sure you manage your schedule and your resources consistently and aggressively. Don’t lose control of time, money, and people.
- In implementing your micro-project, you want to make sure that you keep the lines of communication with your team and your stakeholders open. Communication is key on any project, but on a micro-project that may even be Due to the limited time, the limited resources, and the smaller scope, if you aren’t actively communicating always, there is a greater likelihood that you are going find your micro-project going of track.
Once the project is completed, you are going to need to integrate it into operations, hand it off to the owners, or build off it for the starting point of the next step in a larger project.
It’s like closing out any larger project.
The key things about closing out a micro-project is that you want to make sure that the processes and procedures are in place to make it sustainable if it is part of operations or as a jumping off point to the next step of a bigger project. And, if you are handing the micro-project over to someone else, you want to make sure that they have the knowledge necessary to use the output to its full potential.
This will likely require keeping a record of steps to take, actions that are necessary, maintenance, and any kind of regularly scheduled check-ins. The big key is to not forget that just because you have a smaller project that you don’t have the responsibility of ensuring that the owners and partners that receive the benefit know how to use it and maintain it.
After you’ve moved through planning, implementation, and integration comes closing out. Just like on a large-scale project, you want to understand what worked, what didn’t, and what you need to carry forward with you.
An added step in the micro-project close out would likely be to share the success of your project. Just as Charity: Water would post their completed projects on a Google Map, you are likely going to want to use the success of your micro-projects to help propel your organization to do more of them because of their ability to create positive outcomes, limit the risk to your resources, and drive innovation.
So, think about the final step of adding micro-projects to your repertoire as marketing. Selling the idea of a micro-project as a way to kick-start a new round of success in your business.
One of the marks of a successful businessperson and organization is the ability to use ideas that come from other industries; micro-projects are one of those ideas that we should think about adopting from the world of nonprofits.
Whether you’re working on a massive or micro-project, you’ll need the right tools to plan, monitor and report on it. That’s where ProjectManager.com comes in. Being an online project management software, it has the feature set you need and gets real-time data to give you the most accurate information available. See how it can help you by taking this free 30-day trial.