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Project Management: Neither Fail to Prepare Nor Prepare to Fail

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Martin Atkins - Menzies Accountant

Martin Atkins – Partner

It’s almost a truism for service-based businesses of a certain size – marketing agencies, law firms, recruitment consultants – that the effective management of their people is a precursor to success. Project management (or the lack of it) can make or break the bottom line.

Absent or scattershot project management means a less productive workforce and a throughput of fewer projects each year, which translates rather directly into lower revenues.

For the time-poor business owner necessarily juggling multiple projects, adopting smart project management tools is game-changing, and there is psychology at work here too, not merely profit motive. When work is following a plan, responsibilities are assigned and deliverables are defined, we forgo the circus act of spinning plates for a speedier, more predicable turnover of projects, and a saner work environment where uncertainty is reduced and expectations are managed – to say nothing of the satisfied customers who get their deliverables on time. (The best-laid plans of even superlative project managers may go awry if they are overworked, however.)


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Basics of project management for small business owners

Some of this advice may seem obvious, but if you actualise it you’re off to a good start: Set out clear objectives. Define the project’s scope. Put timescales and budgets to paper so everyone can see them. Delineate available resources. Assign tasks to specific people. Spell out the milestones and performance indicators that let people gauge how it’s all going.

What is project management?

With that in mind, let us define project management simply: effective organisation and planning to achieve an objective.

The objective need not be grand; it could simply be moving offices. Projects that will shine with some planning also include the introduction of a new service, taking a legal case from start to end, launching a marketing campaign or building a website.

If you feel you’ve got these basics down, you will add to your skills by identifying the key risks to the project’s progress. Recognise them, write them down and communicate them, and agree to a plan with your team for mitigating those risks or remedying them once they pop up. In fact, bringing everyone on board ahead of time can improve morale when the team is forced to come together to turn things around.

It’s about the people

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As fundamental as forecasting and organisation are, the most comprehensive Excel spreadsheet in the world won’t rise to the occasion if its contents aren’t communicated properly to the people in charge of executing the project. The most important project management skill of all may be the least obvious: people management.

Team building, communication and leadership are as important as the finer nuances of managing a project. Ensuring your team is working together, that each person understands their role and is motivated, will make up for shortfalls in experience.

Project Management tools: how to get things done

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For SMEs trundling along with the status quo, doing their best to put out dozens of little fires, the thought of project management conjures up images of meetings about meetings, complicated Gantt charts and RAG statuses (traffic lights). Such undertakings have their place, to be sure, especially for those with a more advanced knowledge of project management, but for many business owners, a solid understanding of the basics will have a big impact.

Your Project. Your Choice.

When considering who to organise and manage your project(s), one of the first things you’ll probably do is search ‘best project management tools’. You’ll soon realise that finding the right tool could take you as long as the project you’re working on!

That said, before you dive straight in it’s probably worth you going back to basics to think about what you need most in order to effectively manage your project.

Consider these guide line questions:

  • Is your project task or process driven?
  • Who are your key project stakeholders and where are they located?
  • Who else needs visibility of the project e.g. internal and external/third party team members?
  • How often does the project team need to be update?
  • How much visibility do they need of the project tasks?
  • What are project KPIs and reporting needs?
  • Are there established processes or project management tools already in use?
  • What are other people in your sector / industry using?
  • What other tools might you need in order to streamline communication, delivery, reporting?

Some Project Management Tools to consider

So now you’re a little clearer on your project management tool needs, choosing the right tool is likely to be a much more focused activity. As mentioned, Google, Bing, Yahoo can introduce you to are a host of options, each with varying degrees of complexity, functionality and cost. With many also offering free trials, tutorials and examples of use we’d strongly recommend you trial your shortlist before committing yourself and your team.

Here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of the more popular project management tools to start your research:

When it comes to effective project management everyone has their own approach, but fundamentally a successful project boils down to good organisation and even better communication.

In a fast moving business environment, it’s easy for big – and even small scale – projects to get out of hand, so finding a tool which helps you manage the many project strands could save you time, effort and money in the long run. Working with SMEs across a range of business service sectors has given us a great insight into effective project management and we’d be happy to discuss your needs and support your business moving forward.

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