by Anne Ramstetter Wenzel
Most small business owners don’t consider themselves project managers, but for small business owners, projects are the building blocks of success. To launch a new product, business line, or marketing campaign, we need to shift our focus from day-to-day operations to project management. Project management can also be used when we are implementing a new or reduced cost production method. If we shift our focus from operations to projects for short periods of time, we can reduce the stress of launching special initiatives, and increase the likelihood of their success.
What is a project? A project is a unique venture with a beginning and an end, undertaken by people to meet established goals with defined constraints of time, resources, and quality.
A project management approach to business provides a few key benefits:
- A project driven environment focuses on the successful outcome of a specific initiative.
- Project management enables business owners (or their managers) to more easily plan and coordinate resources to successfully meet deadlines.
- Implementing projects enables business owners to reach business goals more consistently, with less stress, and at lower cost.
Entrepreneurs constantly have business ideas bubbling up in their minds, but new ideas are often pursued before the last great idea was fully implemented. Also, those of us with existing businesses can be bogged down by day-to-day operations; we find meeting the needs of existing customers leaves us with few resources for launching new products or implementing new production techniques.
Moving toward new business goals requires breaking out of the day to day routine and into a project management mindset. Project success requires us to carefully identify all steps toward project completion. We need to break each step down into specific tasks, assign someone’s time and the resources needed to each task, and coordinate all activities toward project completion.
Project management is a skill we may not completely master, but we can easily take the following steps to help ensure projects move ahead towards completion.
- Identify and name all the projects we are currently working on or are considering completing.
- Prioritize the projects: those that will increase profitability or move us towards important business or professional goals should be the projects at the top of the list.
- Identify all the resources needed to complete the top projects: Time, expertise, materials, physical space, vendors, and budget expenditures.
- Consider axing low priority projects to prevent them from squandering scarce time and resources.
- Create a budget, allocate resources and schedule calendar time for completing the top projects. If we have a team of employees or contractors to work with, we can budget and assign tasks to them.
- Check on the status of the project(s) daily or weekly. Team projects, or those with close deadlines, should be monitored more frequently.
- Whether we’re using a simple calendar system, a spreadsheet, or a project management tool , we need to schedule specific times or utilize calendar alerts to ensure we monitor the completion of all the project steps identified.
Monitoring progress is essential. We often find projects take longer to complete than planned, especially if we are launching an innovative product, service, or production technique. We may find certain materials, vendor services, or production methods to be ineffective, or more expensive than anticipated. Also, the persons we assign to perform project steps may have competing demands on their time, and the project may run behind schedule. If we expect the unexpected, we can keep the frustration of project snags to a minimum. Our job as project manager is to add, alter, or adjust the project steps and deadlines as new information is received.
The typical entrepreneur takes on many roles when launching and running a small business, including investor, manager, chief financial officer, and for smaller businesses, even janitor and production worker. Our business goals are more likely to be achieved if we also take on the role of project manager. The key to project completion is for us to identify the project with the highest priority, break down the steps necessary for its completion, designate the persons who will complete each step, and give them the time and resources they need to complete those steps. Finally, we must set aside time for monitoring progress and imposing deadlines to guide the project toward completion.
Anne Ramstetter Wenzel is a writer, educator, and owner of Econosystems, a market research firm based in Menlo Park, California.
 Baker, Sunny & Kim Baker, On Time/On Budget: A Step-by-step Guide for Managing Any Project, Prentice Hall, 1992, p. 6.