What is Cottage Project Management?
Cottage PM is refers to the use of project management knowledge and tools in smaller, informal project environments where formal project management standards, processes, and support may not exist. I coined the term “Cottage PM” in the fall of 2009 as I struggled to put a frame around my own project management experience and observations.
I’m still exploring the idea and my own experience, but here are some observations so far.
The environment seems to have these characteristics:
- Small, mid-size organization doing small, mid-size projects. Or, small organization inside a larger organization.
- Little or no formal project management knowledge or standards. But the team knows how to get good stuff done. (This knowledge and these standards may exist elsewhere in the larger organization, but not in this team.)
- Probably (blissfully) have never heard of a PMO.
- May be unaware of the PMI or its PMBOK or any standards in PM practice.
Improving Cottage PM
Improving Cottage PM may probably means becoming more conscious of what you already do well in PM, and then getting a little better at it. It may involve some of the following:
- Applying core PM principles. Filtering through the extensive (and possibly over-thought) PMBOK to find core project management principles. Other literature may help.
- Employing simple, core PM processes. Every project doesn’t require a separate charter doc, preliminary scope doc, scope doc, etc. But the process of making sure you are free (and funded?) to move forward, that you and your sponsor and stakeholders know exactly what’s being produced by when and for how much — that’s important. It may be recorded only (and effectively) on the back of a napkin, but you’ve got to go through that process.
- Leveraging a few solid PM tools. And I mean “leverage.” Instead of trying to use every possible document and tool, pick a couple that add focus and allow you to handle the rest. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is probably first among this set of highly leveragle tools: planning, control, and communication are all simplified and more effective when you get the WBS right.
I’ll explore resources on this web site over time. I’ll share some of what’s worked for me and my organization. I’ll share what others offer up that seems to make sense.
PMBOK - The Project Management Book of Knowledge
While the PMBOK is way over the top for full application for Cottage PM, it still may be worth a perusal. Check it out at PMI.org. Before starting, just take a deep breath and acknowledge that you’re just peeking, not really trying to consume the whole tome.
The PMBOK is sort of like a lexicon. A lexicon includes all the vocabulary that may be used in a particular domain. I used one to find IT terms in French when working with French Canadian businesses and governments. But I never used all those terms (nor did most native speakers, but that’s another story). And in Cottage PM, you probably shouldn’t be using all the tools and processes in PMBOK. But it will give you a feel for the possible and well-defined, well-established practices from which you can select your own set of practices. Something in PMBOK will likely resonate with you. And that’s worth a perusal.
There are also other books and resources that simplify PM in the way I’m discussing. There are focused self-training materials and podcasts to help you, especially once you’ve identified the principles, processes, and tools that make sense in your version of Cottage PM. They may even help you find those!
We’ll explore them all here. Right now, I feel like I’ve got a chicken wire fence around a Cottage PM definition. Over time, perhaps we can put up a nice wooden fence and really define Cottage PM and a core set of principles, processes, and tools that will make it easier to be good at PM in more settings.