The key challenge facing ambitious small businesses today in the UK and indeed throughout the world is to successfully balance two seemingly competing goals: To maintain current business operations to ensure we are maximising our existing customer relationships and profitability whilst transforming business operations in order to survive and compete in the future. How well we are able to strike the right balance for our business will ultimately determine if our small businesses survive and go on to thrive. As the pace of change accelerates, more and more of a business owner’s time will need to be focused on managing change and adapting their business to the new realities of their business environment.
What has all this got to do with project management? Well, projects are simply the means by which we introduce change in organisations. All businesses have projects. Common examples of projects in small businesses may include setting up a company website, establishing the office in a new location, or implementing a new product but it can be any activity in your business that has a specific deliverable associated with it and a defined start and end date. Businesses increase their capacity for growth one project at a time. Indeed, for ambitious small companies looking to grow and expand, the need to initiate the right projects and achieve the desired results is just as critical if not more critical than it is for huge national and multi-national businesses.
Whilst many of the skills required to manage your “business as usual” activities are the same as those needed to manage projects, there are some crucial differences. Amongst the most significant differences are that project work tends to be at least cross functional and often cross organisational and every project will be unique in some way rather than following the predictable pattern of business as usual. These characteristics of projects introduce opportunities and risks over and above those encountered in business as usual. In short, projects are riskier than day to day business, and therefore need a different management approach.
Despite the obvious need for a project management approach, most small businesses don’t bother. This constitutes a huge missed opportunity as effective Project management impacts the bottom line. In their CHAOS Report, the Standish Group conservatively estimates that 20% of money spent on projects is wasted because companies don't have a consistent approach to project management. Research by the 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 business offers ongoing project management tools and support.
Let’s take a look at some of the common reasons small businesses choose not to bother with project management and the misconceptions underlying these ideas.
Every entrepreneur that starts their own business will, at some point, need to do a risk assessment, a marketing campaign or apply for finance. Being knowledgeable in project management and applying associated tools such as stakeholder analysis, communication planning and risk management will not only assist in many of these tasks, but will provide your small business with a competitive edge over competitors who do not approach change projects in a systematic way.
Modern Project management methodologies all acknowledge the importance of a tailored approach to project management. If your project requires speed, the right methodology can enable you to move quickly. Just as important, however, it will provide you with techniques to understand whether some proposed projects are worth pursuing at all. Rushing into situations without thoroughly understanding your environment is hazardous to the health of any project and potentially to the health of the business as a whole.
Most small businesses are started by a person who already has some expertise in their industry. This is unquestionably an advantage; however, project management should still be used to convert plans into reality. The main reasons for project failure tends to be poor planning, lack of capital, and lack of management. Project management, while not a cast-iron guarantee of success, will assist the small business in mitigating some of the common risks that so often cause project failure amongst small businesses .
A common misconception is that it is hugely expensive to implement project management process. The reality is that there are many free or low-cost sources of advice, techniques, tools, templates and project management services readily available and accessible through the Internet. If done correctly, any small business can implement project management processes, techniques and tools with very little cost. The likelihood is that small business owners are already using software and other tools that can be used for project management. For example, certain email software, spreadsheets, and other common software applications offer good templates for project management, especially if used in collaboration with some of the low cost project management services available for small businesses.
Although it does require specialised skills and experience to be an accomplished project manager, these are skills that can be learned over time. To move further up the learning curve faster, it is possible to take a project management course in as little as four or five days. Most small business owners tend to possess the knowledge needed for project management, and courses such as the Prince 2 Practitioner course would build on these skills while introducing the specific theories, tools, and processes essential for project management. Whilst business owners might not emerge from a course as a project expert, they would certainly learn valuable skills to apply to their small business.
Having a process to follow may add time to the duration of an activity. Doing something properly will almost always take a little bit more time than adopting a slapdash approach. However, if you where building a house, would you rather have a quality end result that took a little longer, or would you prefer to have it done quickly but with lots of problems? Given that poorly executed projects can be completely de-rail a small business if they go badly, doing it well is essential, and project management processes help ensure things are done well.
Here at Continuous Business Planning, we believe that effective project management ultimately saves money and that is why we offer our 500% return on investment promise. In other words, if our monthly project management services do not provide your small business with five times more value than it costs, we will refund your fees in full. Perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone and start to reap the benefits of proper project management for your small business.