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Project Management and your Small Business

In many small businesses, the term project management is viewed as a luxury that larger corporations enjoy vs. a business tool that can be applied to businesses of any size.  Integrating some simple project management structure to key processes or work teams will allow you as a business leader to help your teams “work smarter, not harder.”  Effectiveness and efficiency are not outcomes that are dependent on the size of your company, they are the result of thinking about how to simplify and standardize certain activities and helping your staff apply them consistently – project management is a great approach to help you do this.

Regardless of size, industry or location, all businesses have some form of project to contend with and almost all businesses have multiple, competing projects underway at any one time.  A project does not have to be a significant investment of resources or a major information system installation, it can be any activity in your business that has a specific deliverable associated with it and a defined start and end date.   

Once you have identified what projects exist within your company, the next question is how well prepared are you to manage them all effectively?  Fortunately, project management for small business is a skill that can be developed internally and weaved into your company’s culture.   There are many web-based and simple office automation tools available that can support you and your staff in a very affordable way.

Here is a simple checklist to use when considering the project management needs for your small business:

  • Identify the key business drivers for company – what activities would benefit the most from applying a simple project management approach?
  • Identify a simple approach to project management – too much complexity in the process will lead to frustration for your staff and limited interest in applying project management moving forward
  • No matter what the size of your company, have team members at every level of the organization learn project management skills
  • Think about having staff members with the least amount of project management skills, but the most to gain by learning them, receive training in project management and lead some of your initial project management efforts.   Getting a few key wins early will likely support project management being absorbed more easily in your organization
  • Enable your team members with some simple project management tools:

    • Identify an on-line project management training curriculum for staff members – many of these can cost less than $200 and include templates and tools that can be easily applied to almost any business or project need.

    • Consider office automation tools such as Microsoft Project or Fast Track Schedule to help create simple project scheduling and tracking tools.  Simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheets can also be used as a starting point to identify key project tasks, who the tasks are assigned to for completion or status reporting and when they should be completed.

    • Develop a one page project scorecard to consistently report project status throughout the company

Once you have applied a consistent project management approach and provided a simple tool set to your teams, the possible results could include the following:

  • Ability to more easily partner with and respond to other businesses with whom you may be sub-contracting.   Understanding a common project management process across company boundaries will help your teams work together more efficiently with other organizations without having to design a project management approach every time your contracts change
  • A simple approach to project management in small businesses help to empower both individual staff members and cross-functional project teams to reach their business goals and will likely increase their confidence in getting things done
  • All leading project management methodologies include a close out phase to capture lessons learned from the project team that can be applied to the next group of projects that are identified.   You will not have to “re-invent the wheel” every time a new project is identified
  • An easy-to-use project management approach will give your business a repeatable model that helps staff and leaders move from an initial concept or vision to discrete actions with a defined plan

While the statistics vary by company size and the type of business that you are in, a range of studies have shown that project management can have a positive impact on your bottom line and provide a significant return for a nominal investment.   The Standish Group has recently reported that up to 25% of money spent on projects is wasted due to companies not having a consistent approach to project management.  Furthermore, this study has shown that dedicated improvement efforts focused on project management can lead to improvements in project performance by over 50% for the first project with continuing value to the organization if on-going project management tools are put in place.

While much of the literature and business texts surrounding project management use case studies for large, multi-national corporations and reflect highly complex tools and reporting structures, a focused project management model can be developed for organizations of any size and industry.    Your business can benefit just as much, if not more, by applying similar tools, but on a much more concentrated basis.

Article submitted by Joseph M. Rolewicz, Managing Director of The Alliance Project Group, LLC located in Columbia.   He can be reached at (410) 707-1532 or jrolewicz@apgweb.com

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