Best Project Management Practices for Small Businesses

Every business has a to-do list. Every company has goals and projects they undertake to meet those goals. So every type of business “does” project management. But project management (PM) as a discipline has traditionally been reserved for the larger organization, running large-scale projects like building bridges, launching large websites or undersea drilling. There’s no reason large business should reap all the benefits of PM like improved outcomes, performance, and profit, though. Small businesses can benefit from project management, too—if they know how.

Managing a project

Technically a small business is any business that has anywhere from 1-499 employees. So, small businesses range from the mom and pop hair salon to the local dog groomer to even well-established technology or manufacturing companies.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses make up over 99.7% of all U.S. employers nationwide (in 2011, there were 28.2 million small businesses compared to 17,700 large businesses). With such a diverse range of business types and sizes, it can be difficult to declare best practices in project management, but luckily the art and science of project management has much to offer projects and businesses of all sizes.

So What is Project Management?

As I noted above, there’s managing a project and then there’s “project management”. The field of project management is governed by a set of standardized practices for the initiation, operation, management and closure of projects. There’s a certifying agency for project managers across disciplines (PMI.org) to formulate best project management practices that were historically not used much outside of the larger corporate enterprise or government organizations. Projects are defined as activities with a defined start and finish, as opposed to ongoing operational or program management work.

Today, the role of project managers is changing as more and more businesses are turning to project management practices to help structure, organize, and excel at their projects.

Here are 3 tips small business owners and managers can use to achieve better outcomes and ROI on their projects:

1. Start with the End in Mind. I realize this is nearly a cliché phrase, but when running large or small projects you will succeed better if you have a plan.

Plans can be simple lists, documenting the steps needed to complete the project, or longer more structured plans. One thing all plans have in common are documenting the clear steps needed to complete the project—the operative word being “complete”.

This is the time to document literally every step. Not the “Oh, I’ll get to that later-type stuff.” Later costs you money, because if you had planned in advance, you could anticipate all costs that are associated with the project. Waiting to the last minute to, “do the final stuff,” means you’re probably spending more to get that stuff last minute. Even worse, your project could be delayed, because you didn’t anticipate all the stuff in the first place.

2. Be Schedule-Driven. Project managers often like to ask “Is this project schedule-driven or feature-driven?” It’s really a trick question, designed to get the client to realize that a feature-driven project could go on and on until the cows come home. Whereas a schedule-driven project, once agreed to as such, will be aggressively pushed to completion.

Your goal is to clearly define your schedule-driven project. You can always push some “nice to haves” to a later date (and even some of your must-haves might get kicked to that list, too, as your project kicks into gear), but clearly know what parts of are critical to your mission and which aren’t.

3. Get Everything Online. Online, collaborative project management tools can help business managers plan, track and monitor their projects in real-time and to collaborate with other people in the organization. Also, backing up all files, schedules, tasks, and reports in an online cloud ensures nothing will be lost. Online tools save time and money in the long-run and enable you to monitor performance instantly to know whether your project is on track and headed for success.

The biggest mistake small businesses make operationally is failing to manage their projects effectively. You don’t need to be a certified project manager to improve your ROI for your projects. Keep a structure in place, stick to your schedules, and take advantage of the advances in online project management software to help you manage and track your project.