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Project Management for Small Business
By Michael L Young

Introduction

Large business and Government have been using project management for years as a way to deliver critical business outcomes. But project management is not just for the big end of town. Small business can also benefit by using project management tools and techniques to drive the achievement of their objectives.

What Is a Project?

PMBOK defines a project as “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service”. A project, like business, requires the use of scarce resources to achieve a pre-determined set of objectives. Large or small, most organizations now refer to key actions, activities or tasks as ‘a project’.

But what is project management all about and how does it apply to small business?

Project management, is exactly that: the management of a project. It requires the identification and management of a number of key elements. You need to determine:

  • Why you are doing it (the mandate)
  • What you need to do (the scope)
  • How it will be achieved (the approach)
  • When are resources – human or otherwise – required
  • Who will perform each task (resourcing)
  • What can go wrong (risk management)

More specifically you need to ask the following questions:

  • Why
    • What are your objectives?
    • Why are you doing the project?
    • What are the tangible and measurable outcomes you are trying to achieve?
  • What (Scope)

    • What are you doing?
    • What are you not doing?
    • What are you not sure about?
  • How (The Plan)

    • What is your approach – ie how will you deliver the project?
    • What resources do you need?
    • What is your budget?
    • What are the tasks to be done?
    • What are the deliverables – ie what is produced?
    • Are we going to have regular meetings to discuss the project?
  • When (Schedule)

    • In what order do things need to happen?
    • Are there any dependencies between these tasks?
    • How many people are required at what time?
  • Who (Resources)

    • Who will work on each task?
    • What is their workload for the project as well as their other activities?
    • Do they really know what they need to do and the timeframes to do it?
  • What Can Go Wrong (Risk Management)

    • What are the show stoppers?
    • What are the predicable problems?
    • What is the impact if any of these occur?
    • What can we put in place to minimize any impact?

The Project Manager’s Role

One you have determined the project scope, budget, resource requirements and schedule and identified the potential show stoppers and risks, you need to appoint a project manager to drive the project forward.

The project manager plays a critical role. They are required to:

  1. Manage and lead the project team
  2. Communicate and negotiate with the project team and the rest of the organization
  3. Make decisions
  4. Plan, monitor and control work performed by the team
  5. Report on progress

The project manager needs to be given sufficient authority to ‘crack on’ with the job at hand and provided with the resources to ensure the project will be a success, and not be doomed to failure from the start.

Common Pitfalls

Through experience, there have been found to be a number of challenges that many organizations face when attempting to manage critical projects.

  • Some things just take time – Many individuals and organizations fall into the trap occasionally of specifying ‘magic dates’, they begin arbitrarily setting dates that are totally unrealistic. They are then suddenly surprised when the target dates are not met. Plan activities using realistic timeframes taking into account the resources that are available. Wishing, hoping, and praying are not valid scheduling techniques!
  • Focus on outcomes not activity – Projects are all about achieving an outcome, not running around and being busy. Identify and plan activities based on the outcomes they achieve or the deliverables (documents, systems etc) they will produce. If you are performing a task that does not produce a deliverable that contributes to the outcome the project aims to achieve, you are doing something wrong.

  • Don’t just meet for meeting sake – Meetings are more than an opportunity to talk about the weekend or your favorite football team. All meetings should have a purpose, an agenda with all action items being allocated and set a target date. The average meeting costs in excess of $5000 in labor… use the time wisely!

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail – Despite popular opinion, planning and documentation are critical to ensuring a successful outcome. In fact as much as 75% of the project schedule may be spent on planning and design in technology projects. Plan the project from the start. Once the plan has been established, then work to the plan.

  • Projects run late one day at a time – Whilst a day here or there may not seem like a lot, they all add up. Many organizations do not focus on ensuring all critical project deliverables are delivered on time, with the net result being the ‘oh-my-God’ moment when there is sudden realization that the project has run off the rails. Once late, projects very rarely get back on track.

Conclusion

Project management is not complex, difficult or too hard. Effective project management requires the application of a systematic and disciplined approach. It is through this focus, businesses of all sizes are able to utilize project management skills, tools and techniques to drive critical business outcomes.

Michael Young is Principal Consultant with ‘Transformed’ – Project Management Unleashed. http://www.transformed.com.au

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