Project Management in Small and Medium Businesses.
Change is inevitable in any business as we grapple with market and economic forces. Staying the same is often not a realistic option, if we want our businesses to survive and prosper. So, as owners and managers of small and medium businesses, how do we deal with change management? Some of us muddle through. Others put together change management or project management teams from within their business. A small minority of smaller business owners choose to bring in project managers to help them with the change process. This is particularly prevalent in projects, which involve IT system changes and where the skill set that is needed, simply does not exist within the business.
So what does project management involve and what are the core components? The diagram below gives an example of some of the fundamental components most often seen in managing a project.
A quick glance will tell you that project management can be a complex task, and that there are considerable risks in trying to manage a change project without some external assistance. This diagram is only at headline level. For complex projects, we need to go one step further to break down the activities within Process Groups and to identify the tasks to be completed within Knowledge Areas. The following diagrams will help you to visualize this break down.
Components of Project Management Process Groups
Components of Project Management Knowledge Areas
The purpose of showing you these diagrams is not to put you off trying to manage a project internally in your business. Rather it is to shine a light on the elements you should be considering before rushing into managing a project, whether you choose to bring in some external assistance or whether you decide to manage it within the confines of your existing management team.
No matter which option you choose, in-house or external, the key to implementing any successful project in your business will be predicated by the amount of time and effort you put into planning the project. If you can anticipate potential problems or possible scope changes ahead of time, you can also develop mitigating strategies that can reduce your risk, should the unexpected occur.
One of the biggest challenges in any project is dealing with changes to the scope during the project. Businesses are dynamic in nature and events frequently happen that make it necessary to change the scope as the project progresses. If you build in a formal way to deal with scope changes, this will help prevent serious disruption or project failure. So what do I mean by this?
Take for example a business that is building a new website. A budget has been agreed, a web development firm has been engaged, and a timeframe has been agreed. Half way through the project, it becomes clear to the business owner that it would be really beneficial to have a private members area for customers on the new website. Bringing in this new component may present a number of problems, not least of which will be the website architecture, the added functionality, the delivery date, and the additional cost.
If you build in a set mechanism for dealing with scope changes at the outset, like the one described above, then you will have a set of steps for resolving the problems caused by the change. This will usually include a written document that clearly articulates the changes, agrees a cost and timeframe for these changes, and sign-off by both the business and the web development firm. With this agreed process in place, the project may be able to proceed without any serious disruption.
If the project is internal and internally resourced, it will often proceed without the safeguards of a formal project management methodology. Lack of definition and planning frequently result in project failure. Poor budgeting and resourcing came have the same effect. The biggest reason for failure is often scope creep, wherein the project keeps expanding over time, with more and more features being added. Unplanned feature creep can be like building a four-story house on a foundation for a bungalow – the architecture simply cannot support the weight.
This article was written to alert you to the complexity and risk inherent in project management. It does not recommend whether it is better to bring in a professional project manager or whether it is safe to go it alone. However, I would recommend that you consider the pitfalls and that you plan properly and extensively, regardless of the choice you make.
There are a number of resources you can use to help you manage projects within your business. The best free resource is called Prince2, and it is available for download from https://www.siliconbeachtraining.co.uk/blog/download-prince2-2009-project-templates and from several other websites. It provides standard documentation and checklists that you can use when planning and/or executing any project in your business.