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Project management tips and tools for small businesses

Project management tips and tools for small businesses

Project management isn’t just for the big dogs—it’s a necessary tool for businesses of all sizes and within all industries. Often also referred to as the science of getting things done, project management can help business owners and their employees work smarter (not harder).

Small business owners often make the mistake of thinking that because of size, it’s not inherently necessary to develop processes that help keep staff on task, on time and on a trajectory toward project completion and business success. Instead, these things are seen as obvious. Yet, according to a study by The Center for Business Practices (CBP), the largest project management challenge facing companies is implementing a consistent process. From lost time to inconsistency, not having a process means poor performance.

What’s more, further research by CBP shows that project management improvement initiatives improve project performance by up to 50% for the first project and can continue for each new project if the enterprise offers ongoing support with project management tools.

Perhaps it’s time for your small business to consider a thoughtful approach to project management today…

Tip 1: Clearly define the project
Knowing what the project goals are, the scope of work required to meet these goals, deadlines and the staff and resources involved in each project is crucial to successful management. Clear definitions also allow you to establish measurable and trackable success criteria, including accomplishing tasks on schedule, achieving budget targets, confirming satisfactory products and ensuring government and/or industry regulations are met. Grab a dry erase board and some markers to work out the details as a team.

Tip 2: Identify project and team requirements
Once you have a strong plan in place, you can start implementing it by assembling an effective project team. As a project manager, you’ll need to align skills, talents and personalities with the appropriate project needs. Make sure that each individual working on the project is clear about their task and what they are providing upon completion. Keep staff motivated throughout the project to keep an eye on the prize, literally—have them put a list of deliverables and deadlines on their desk along with a chocolate bar or gift certificate they can’t use until a milestone has been reached. And, speaking of milestones…

Tip 3: Define critical milestones
Identify defining moments throughout the project. You can provide a life cycle of the project by including the four main phases: initiation, planning, execution and closure. Perform a real evaluation at the end of each phase and make sure to examine every deliverable. These milestones will not only help you to eliminate project risk and monitor project change, but will also alert you to any continuing problems and ensure that each piece is correctly completed. Tool: Project management software, like Microsoft Project ®, CreativePro Office™ or Basecamp™, allows for project plans and any associated milestones to be added into a database, enabling project managers to track progress, identify potential problems and be reminded of impending deadlines and deliverables.

Tip 4: Communicate
Throughout the entire project, communication should be consistent, open, honest and clear. Make sure you keep in touch with all key stakeholders and team members during the project process. Ensure that everyone has the information necessary to make decisions and proceed with the project. You can also keep everyone on the same page by creating status reports based upon the project information and updates. Tool: Go beyond e-mail—where communications can hit overload by way of “reply all” syndrome—and utilize other communications tools for collaboration such as wikis, instant messaging services and more.

Tip 5: Manage risks
Also known as expecting the unexpected. By having open communication, you should be able to understand what, if any, risks are approaching and manage them before they get out of hand. You will need to identify and control project risks before they control you. Since a risk is only a potential problem, you want to take care of it before it becomes an actual problem. Tool: Utilize Web tools like 16bugs or Jira to record and track risks and “bugs” in project development and deliverables like product design and websites.

Finally, the last piece of successful project management has to do with evaluating the project once it’s been completed. Gather your team for a recap retreat—a meeting that discusses what lessons were learned along the way, what could be improved upon in the process for the next project and more. Don’t forget to treat your staff, too, for a job well done with gifts that instill team pride and excitement for the next big project, like logo’d hats or tote bags.

 

Brosseau, Jim. "A Business Case for Improved Project Practices." Clarrus. Web. 21 May 2011.

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