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Project management in a small business

Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs


Before you dismiss the idea of project management as something that only big companies do, think again. No matter how small your venture, implementing effect project management processes can ensure things get done quickly, on time and of the highest quality. Now who doesn't want that for their business?

A project can be described as a task or job that must be done within a set time and budget, using certain resources (people and equipment).

Project Management is defined as "the use of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to plan and implement activities" to meet the needs of the stakeholder (the client or even yourself) or project criteria".

So whether you want to standardise certain internal systems in order to function more efficiently or there is a special project that needs to be carried out, using a systematic approach can help you achieve your goals without losing precious time, costing more money than is necessary or using the wrong people to do the job.

The project management process

If you put your mind to it, you can probably think of a few areas in your day-to-day operations that can be streamlined into some kind of organised system from start to finish. You may even decide to use one of these tasks to practise using the guidelines below, before a big assignment comes your way.

The most important elements of a good project management system are:

Plan to succeed: Planning your project properly, in as much detail as possible, can determine its eventual success or failure. This phase will probably take the most time, but if done well, it can save you a lot of time and headache when the job is being executed. The most important questions that need to be answered are:

  1. What is the end goal, i.e. the customer's expectation and the steps needed to get there? 
  2. What time frame and budget do you have to work with and is this realistic?
  3. What are the risks associated with the project, worst-case and best case scenarios?
  4. Is there more than one way to do it and if so, how?
  5. Do you have enough resources - people and equipment - or do you need to buy/hire more?

The dream team: Now that you know what needs to be done, you have to assign the right people with the necessary skills to carry out the project. It may help you to draw a diagram of the tasks and who will do it. This will also help you settle on time frames for each part of the job, the costs involved and whether you have to use contractors or not.

Get stuck in: Once everyone knows what is expected of them, the work can begin. The person managing the project (more often than not, that's you) needs to check in with all parties regularly to make sure that everything is running smoothly, to iron out problems and communicate with the customer at various stages.

Quality assurance: Once completed, check the quality of the final product and/or service, as though you are the customer. If you're happy that everything has been done according to the job specifications, you can now do the hand-over goes smoothly and ensure the customer is satisfied.

Look back, looking ahead: The project may be completed, but your work is not yet done. Get the team together to look at how the project was executed from the beginning. Talk about what went well, what didn't go according to plan and what can be done differently.

It's a good idea to write a project report, including all the steps mentioned. It makes a good point of reference when a similar job is required and if the client wants to query anything, you can retrace your steps to see where a problem might have crept up.

Pat on the back: Phew! So you've done the job on time, under budget and the client is thrilled. Give yourself and the team a pat on the back or even go out for lunch to celebrate your good work before the next project begins.

This may seem like a long and involved process, but it really isn't. Refine the system to suit your needs or the specific task. You'll see that as you get to grips with it, things will run more smoothly. It may help to use some of the plans and checklists in this category.

You'll see. Once you're an old hand at project management, you'll wonder how you ever ran your business without it.

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