Project management for small business (full sample)
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About this content
Learn about the main concepts of project management, what project managers do, and how your small business can benefit in this easy to understand guide.
How project management can help your small business
Great products, services, and processes are at the heart of every successful small business. Developing your ideas into something that you can sell requires effort, discipline, and a guided framework to get things right: that framework is project management.
Project management can help you manage many aspects of your small business including product development, testing, customer service, advertising, marketing, payroll, and invoicing. Used well, it's an excellent way to refine, tweak, and create more effective and efficient ways of doing things.
Don't be put off by the rather grandiose title of project management; it's not something that should scare you. At a basic level, it’s really about applied common sense: knowing and planning what needs to happen when, who should do it, and what you expect the outcome to be.
In this article we'll explore some of the main concepts of project management in a small business including:
What is project management?
How does it all fit together?
What does a project manager do?
Tasks and to do lists
Resources and software applications for project management
Benefits you'll get from reading this article include:
Finding out about the key parts of a successful project
Learning how project and task management can help you achieve your business goals
Discovering how everything fits together
Download and try out software to help you with project and task management
What is project management?
Project management is a vast subject and there are hundreds of books, training courses, online resources, and methodologies dedicated to teaching people how to become good project managers. Although you’ll certainly learn a lot from reading books and getting training, there are some simple elements of project management that you can learn without formal courses.
Definitions of project management include:
“Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals.” - Wikipedia
“At its most fundamental, project management is about people getting things done.” - Association for Project Management
“It’s a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.” - Project Management Institute
Let's explore some of the key elements that make something a project. Projects are:
A series of steps
A project is temporary and doesn't go on indefinitely
Projects don't last forever (although some of the bigger ones can take years). Projects should have a defined beginning, when work starts, and a planned end, when work is delivered and everyone is (hopefully) happy with the results.
Projects are unique, not business as usual
There are generally two types of business activities - business as usual and projects:
Business as usual - Ongoing business functions and processes that need to take place for a business to function (e.g. manufacturing, administration, financial control, employee processes, customer services).
Projects - A project has unique outcomes. It doesn't produce the same things time after time, but has distinct inputs (time, money, requirements, resources), processes (planning, project management, analysis, testing, implementation etc.), and outputs (milestones and deliverables).
Projects are constrained by time, resources, and scope
A project is constrained or bounded by several areas:
Time - Most projects have to deliver something in a planned, specific amount of time.
Budget / Resources - There is only a finite amount of money or other resources that can be spent on a project.
Scope - The scope details exactly what areas a project will affect, what it will deliver, and is generally what the project is setting out to accomplish.
These three things together are known as the OTOBOS triangle - On Time, On Budget, On Scope - and if you can deliver a project to those three things, you are doing well!
At the center of the OTOBOS triangle is quality and you generally can't affect one point of the triangle (e.g. time), without also affecting the quality of the project (for good or bad). You can mitigate this by changing one of the other points of the triangle; for example, if you reduce the time, you can maintain quality by also reducing scope or by increasing resources.
Projects are planned
All successful projects have a plan, created at the beginning of the project and regularly reviewed and updated as the project continues. The plan will normally show:
What needs to be accomplished (scope, outcomes, and quality).
Key deliverables (what's being created) and milestones (goals and deadlines).
Who is performing the various tasks (resources).
Time expected to be taken (cost and hours spent).
What is happening and when (timing).
Dependencies (if something relies on something else being completed).
Project plans can be as simple as a document that lists everything, as complicated as a repository of documents, or anywhere in between, as long as it serves your purpose. Project management software will often output project plans as Gantt charts.
Projects are a series of steps
A project will always have more than one task that needs to be accomplished, with larger deliverables and tasks split up into smaller and smaller tasks. As an example, if you were creating a project to move house, you might have part of it that looks like this. [image removed]
The more you can break down a project into deliverables, those deliverables down into tasks, and those tasks down into sub-tasks, the more control you will have and ultimately the more likely your project will be successful.
Projects are outcome based
Projects are designed, created, and managed to achieve change and add value. If a project doesn't achieve one or both of those objectives, it probably isn't worth doing.
Examples of outcomes a project might help with are:
Advertising for, interviewing, and taking on a new employee.
Decorating your office space.
Creating a more efficient invoicing and financial management process.
Prototyping and testing a new product idea.
Developing effective customer service processes.
And many more...
How does it all fit together?
This picture illustrates how project managers, tasks, and projects fit together to deliver your desired outcome. [image removed]
What does a project manager do?
The responsibilities of a project manager can vary widely, but in general they are responsible for:
Planning a project, reviewing that plan, and ensuring it goes ahead.
Organizing resources, people, and budget so that what needs to happen is achieved when it needs to be by the people who need to do it.
Managing people, processes, and other aspects to ensure successful delivery of a project.
Leading by example and working to remove barriers, risks, and issues that prevent the project achieving what it needs to.
Delegating appropriately to other areas.
Controlling different aspects of the project and keeping things on track.
Communicating with stakeholders, people impacted by the project, and people working on the project.
Reporting on what the project is going to do, how it is progressing, and what it has achieved.
Understanding what you want to achieve
This is about defining what your project is setting out to do, specifically:
What does the outcome of your project look like?
What type of service, product, or process are you trying to create?
How will you be able to tell if you've been successful?
What is the scope of what you are trying to do?
Estimating the resources that you will need
You'll need to accurately understand and obtain the resources (people, money etc.) you will need:
Do you need someone else to help you achieve this outcome or will you do it yourself?
How will you find the right people to help you?
Will you need to spend money to achieve it, and if so, how much?
What other resources might be needed?
Calculating how long things will take
Working to the right timescales is essential, so calculate how long the various tasks and activities in your project will take:
How long, from beginning to end, should the project take?
What are the key dates and milestones in the life of the project that you would like to reach?
At what points will you review the progress of the project?
How will you tell if the project is still on track to deliver?
Planning the project out and breaking it down into tasks
You'll need to plan out the various outcomes, deliverables, milestones, tasks, and sub-tasks that need to be accomplished:
What is the overall aim of the project?
What are the main things you need to deliver and when?
How can you break these deliverables down into distinct tasks?
How can you break those tasks down further, into sub-tasks?
These discrete steps and tasks need to occur in a specified order for you to achieve your outcome. Each of these tasks will accomplish a specific thing, which together will deliver your project.
Delegating and doing
Once all the planning is done, the project will get underway. You’ll need to carry out the tasks yourself or delegate them. Keeping track of these tasks, who is doing them, how, and when is a critical part of being a good project manager:
Who is the best person to do this work?
Do you have their agreement and commitment to complete the work?
How will you track who is doing what?
You will need to be sure that whatever the project is delivering, it is of the right quality. This means knowing what is good enough for you to achieve what you want and sufficiently controlling the project to achieve that quality:
What measures are you using to ensure a good quality outcome?
How do you test for quality?
What does a successful outcome look like?
If something is delivered that isn't of a high enough quality, how will you manage it?
All projects hit problems and snags. The unexpected or unplanned is a fact of life; reacting to these curve-balls in a realistic way and keeping the project on track will help you achieve your goals.
How can you understand the risks and issues you might encounter?
How will you manage risks and issues that might impact on your project?
Reviewing and keeping an eye on progress will ensure you’re able to keep moving your project forward.
How often will you review your project plan and progress toward outcomes?
How will you track activities and keep things moving forward?
Communicating your project
Since communicating is essential to delivering a successful project, the groups you'll want to communicate with are:
People working on the project - If it's not just you involved, you'll need to make everyone aware of the goals and tasks expected of them during the project.
Your audience / customers - If the project is going to affect a group of people or your customers (internal or external) you will need to keep them informed.
Stakeholders - Anyone else who has a vested interest in the outcome of the project is a stakeholder. They might be supplying money or resources or be impacted by what the project is delivering. They can also be powerful decision makers.
How do tasks and to do lists fit in with project management?
Despite all of the responsibilities of a project manager and the varying degrees of complexity around managing projects, at the most basic level a project is simply a series of tasks that need to be completed to achieve a desired outcome.
Tasks and to do lists are the building blocks of getting stuff done. This means that having an effective way to capture everything you need to do, knowing when it needs to be done, and who is going to do it becomes a critical part of running a successful project.
Some of the software shown below [removed] is great for overall project management, while some of it is good for task management. Ultimately, you should try the software out to see what works best with your approach. There are some good business software solutions to help you plan, track, and manage your projects, tasks, and to do lists so that you can deliver what you need to, with the minimum of fuss.
It's true that project management can be a lot of work, and there are many different approaches you can take. Some aspects of what I've discussed here will work for project management in your small business, some of it might not.
The key to be a successful project manager is objectivity, planning, communicating, and understanding what you want to achieve. If you can accomplish that, you're already on your way to delivering a successful project.
Content originally written by Paul Maplesden, a freelance writer, and edited by me.