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Project management best practices for SMBs

Project management is commonly thought of as a practice suited mainly to larger businesses. But these days, small and medium-sized business owners and employees also need to think about the discipline.

“We’re all project managers now,” said Dave Scarola, vice president of The Alternative Board, which offers coaching for small-business owners.

SMBs need to be able to adapt project management best practices and templates to their business, but they often don’t, said Scarola in the webinar “Project Management for Small Businesses.” This is because they often find project management practices to be intimidating.

This perception starts with what SMB employees think the definition of a project is.

“Projects are perceived to be complex, but even relatively simple endeavors can be projects,” Scarola said.

So what exactly is a project?

According to the Project Management Institute, it’s a temporary endeavor that has a definitive start and end and a specific outcome. This outcome doesn’t necessarily have to be concrete, like a software product; it can be a new process, information or an idea. (Some examples include creating a process manual for the sales department and developing a customer retention program.)

Which brings us to the definition of project management: the organization and oversight of a project with the ultimate goal of successfully accomplishing the project in terms of scope, timeline, quality and budget.

“Project management is about execution, not about planning and strategy (which are just elements). Project management is about getting things done,” Scarola said.

The two common process methodologies for project management are Waterfall and Agile; Scarola believes the latter is the way to go for most SMB projects. “But be careful with it, [because it] can turn into a free-for-all,” he warned. “You need good expertise on how to properly deliver [Agile].”

Scarola offered the following project management best practices:

  • Have a well-defined scope that is not subject to interpretation. The project scope not only includes basics like who the project manager is, a high-level description of the project and the due date, but also justification for the project, who the client is, the project’s objectives and an outline of its purpose to create alignment with stakeholders. It also includes deliverables, and not just the technical aspects: “Does the project need a process to be created with it? Is there training needed?” said Scarola.
  • Have objective success criteria. “There should be no question if the project was successful or not; it needs to meet all criteria in the success criteria definition,” Scarola said. Emotion can be factored into whether to go forward with the project — passion can go a long way in getting a project accomplished. But he cautioned against looking at the endeavor with rose-colored glasses. “Too many projects can become someone’s pet,” he said.
  • Choose the right team and assign them the right roles and responsibilities. Scarola stressed that it’s important not to confuse roles with people. “It’s not uncommon for a single person to fill the role of analyst, trainer or QA,” he said. He recommended using the PAVE model: passion (is the person you assigned passionate about the role?); aptitude (can they do it successfully?); vision (does their vision match that of the organization?); and empathy (can they handle the responsibilities of the role while maintaining an empathetic personality?).
  • Create a project plan that outlines the “how.” A project plan is not just a schedule, although that’s a part of it. It also includes other things like assumptions, risks, known issues, budgets and implementation plans. A project plan should also be a “breathing” document, said Scarola. “A project plan is based on the best information we have now; we may have to make adjustments along the way,” he said. A flexible plan is not a substitute for thorough planning at the outset, however. Scarola also suggested setting up a weekly meeting with the project team. “Encourage dissension. You want to have folks challenge each other; you get the best results that way,” he said.

Have any project management best practices to add? Write to us at [email protected].