When the term “Project Management” is used, most associate it with large, complex endeavors that require a dedicated individual to oversee the day-to-day activity, including budget, schedule and issues. Small businesses, where “the boss is also a horse”, don’t have the luxury of dedicating a full-time staff member to the delivery of a project. The expectation is everyone will contribute their needed skills at the needed time with everyone keeping an eye on the schedule. Does this mean project management is something small business can or should do without?
Just because a firm is small doesn’t mean it can skip project management. In this post we examine the benefits of project management and how a small business can successfully achieve it without a lot of red tape, dedicating a staff member or hiring a dedicated project manager.
A project is a temporary activity in place to accomplish a specific outcome.
Change, especially at a small company, is never without some degree of friction. It can prove daunting to the staff, clients and vendors. Depending on the degree of change, it can also introduce operational risk. This friction can add pressure to finish quickly or compromise quality. When this happens, the seeds of disaster are planted. Managing the risks, issues, dependencies, team members, vendors and expectations is a monumental task. If executed properly, with sufficient planning, a well-organized project can introduce efficiency, cost savings and/or increased productivity.
Where Does a Small Business Start?
The first step for small business project management is a clear understanding of what the project is intended to achieve by when and for how much. Clarity on these three points is the first step toward staying in control and increasing the chances of success. Project Management is not about how many people are involved, rather it’s how well the change is controlled.
Once the success criteria, due date and budget are agreed and understood, the next step is expanding the definition for each. For example, a clear due date is great, but how then is the start date calculated, allowing a reasonable amount of time to get the project done? Understanding how much the project will cost is fantastic, but how are cost overruns managed and what is the mechanism to deal with unforeseen costs? Planning for these situations allows a small business to stay on top of project activity and avoid tricky situations.
With a start date, end date, budget and success criteria defined, the next step is a schedule that defines the major milestones between the start and end date. Think of these milestones as indicators that the project is on track and things are continuing as expected. Milestones can include testing, acceptance or training. The point is to name key accomplishments that contribute to the end goal to help keep things in control.
The Importance of Accountability
Small businesses rely on everyone to do their job, do it well and look after their own responsibilities. When a project is introduced, added responsibilities will fall to different members of the staff. It’s critical to set up agreement in the beginning – before the project starts -- that team members can and will manage their time appropriately so there is never a compromise between project responsibilities and normal job responsibilities. This upfront agreement prevents issues down the road, when a staff member can make it seem like a choice is needed: project work or the job they were hired to do. Insist on accountability and the project will keep a better chance of success.
Dedicate Meetings to the Project
It may prove tempting to incorporate project meetings with staff meetings or perhaps, in lieu of meetings altogether, have team members add their project status to Microsoft Teams, Slack or Trello. Reliance on written status updates in a collaboration tool exclusively can lead to loss of project control. With dedicated project meetings, team members understand the purpose of the dialog and come prepared. There is an opportunity to ask questions and gain clarification. A project meeting can last five minutes but keeping it exclusive to the project is a terrific way to keep the project transparent and under control.
Take Advantage of Tools
There are a host of tools available to help companies – large and small – manage their projects. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no silver bullet. No tool will remove the need for a budget, a schedule, accountability or control. A useful tool can make these things easier or more efficient, but nothing will remove or decrease their importance. With all these options, it can get confusing. Roark Tech Services evaluated many of the popular tools on the market.
Roark Tech Services is well positioned to help any small business implement project management in a way that is fit-for-purpose and useful, without overkill. We are experts in the field of project management; our CEO published a book entitled “A Pocket Guide for Project Managers" that highlights the best practices of project management for any size organization.
If you don’t have an IT Partner that you can trust to give you the right support and advice, we’d love to help. Contact us.