Put simply, a project can be defined as anything you want to achieve that has a distinct deliverable and a clear start and end date.
Your plans to build a new website, attend an event or launch an exciting new product can all be seen as projects, and I know as a small creative business, you’ll have a list of projects like that that stretches to the moon and back!
When you’re juggling everything it takes to run a successful small business, alongside the hustle and bustle of home and family life, it can be difficult to get projects finished (or even started!). The process you go through can be painful (I mean paiiiinnnnnfffulllll!), and the outcome not exactly what you were hoping for. The whole experience is a bit like driving to a new place without knowing the route and with no map or directions – you arrive more or less at your destination, but you definitely didn’t take the most direct route, you were maybe a little late, and it was way more stressful than it should have been.
With the help of even a very basic sat nav – simple project management tools and techniques – you have something structured to guide you along the best route with regular checkpoints to help keep you on track and on time.
These tools and techniques are possible to adopt in a business of any size and, even when implemented in a light touch way, hold so many benefits. Now some businesses only do this for a living, and charge a very pretty pound. We will talk lots about this in the future, as it really can drive such efficiency, and thus, save money and time which is what we all like!
There are three fundamental principles in project management – time, money and scope (the ‘what’ of your project). These three things are inextricably linked – you can’t change one without it significantly impacting the others. Time and money are usually the elements that have the least flexibility to shift, which therefore means, that scope must be fixed in line with them. You wouldn’t ask your cleaner you hire to clean your house once a week, to take on extra duties, without increasing his/her hours and therefore the money you pay him/her.
Getting clear and being honest about what a project covers – and arguably even more importantly, what it doesn’t – will help keep your project on time and within budget, and brings us nicely onto…
Being aware of, and understanding, what is and isn’t important in your project – i.e., what is in scope and what isn’t – provides a focus and an anchor that you can use to check in against as the project progresses. It helps to ensure you reach your end destination, rather than ending up somewhere near it, and prevents you straying too far along the way.
Breaking down a project and laying out its key focuses sets expectations both in your own mind and with the rest of your team, and ensures everyone is on the same page and working towards the same thing. There should be no surprises, or disappointment, with what is delivered at the end of the project.
Regular check-ins throughout the project not only keep you focused and on track, they also provide a forum for reviewing and addressing any issues that come up as the project progresses, keeping you and your team aligned and up-to-speed on its status.
Outlining the risks involved with a project creates the opportunity to ensure that measures are put in place to address and minimise those concerns. Be honest with yourself, what is the worst f**k up that could happen here? If things don’t quite go as planned and the measures you put in place weren’t sufficient, having already considered the risks means they won’t come as a complete surprise and you will be better equipped to deal with them.
Ultimately, adopting a process to more efficiently and effectively manage your projects gives them the best chance of being successful.
Whilst large businesses have teams of people dedicated to managing projects, there are some simple steps that even the smallest of businesses with no dedicated resource can adopt to better manage their projects – and there’s not a Gantt chart (this is what people who do this for a living call a chart in which a series of horizontal lines shows the amount of work done or production completed!) anywhere in sight.
1. List your stakeholders
Take a few minutes to consider who the project stakeholders are – who within your business has knowledge you can use, who can help you implement different aspects of the project, and who has an interest in the outcome of the project, because they will be impacted by it? If there’s just little old you in your business, don’t worry, just list out the different roles you play that will be useful in delivering the project and be prepared to wear multiple hats – something I’m sure you’re already doing anyway!
2. Hold a project kick-off workshop
If you chose to adopt only one of the tools outlined here, this would be the one I would hope you’d choose. The project kick-off workshop is where projects live and die and I truly believe it makes the difference between a successful project and one that is fraught with pain and problems. It’s where you programme your sat nav to calculate the best route.
Get the people on your stakeholder list together in a room, along with a year’s worth of post-it notes, Sharpies, highlighters, big sheets of paper, Blu-Tack and snacks (people are always more likely to come along if they know there’s food!). Start by outlining the ultimate aim of the project to the group then get everyone involved by brainstorming the following:
- Goals/Non-Goals: What are the goals of this project? What are you looking to achieve? What is your budget? What is the deadline? How will you measure success? What metrics are you looking to move? And, just as importantly, what is this project NOT? What AREN’T you looking to do with this project?
- Risks: What could be negatively impacted by this project? What could go wrong? What are you concerned about?
- Breakdown: What is required to achieve your goals? What needs to happen? Who is required? Who does it impact/benefit?
Next, consider if the risks you identified have been addressed and review the output from your project breakdown brainstorm against your project goals. Does it align with what you’re looking to achieve, and with your budget and timeline? Anything that doesn’t, should be set aside and is out of scope for this project. The rest forms the basis of your project plan.
Don’t forget to write up a summary of the workshop, including clear assignment of who is responsible for which parts of the project, and to distribute it to your stakeholder group.
3. Regular check-ups!
With your project successfully kicked off, it’s important to check-in regularly with yourself/your team – just as you would keep an eye on your sat nav when you’re driving to a new destination.
At least this sat nav, doesn’t have an annoying voice! This might only be fortnightly in the early stages of a project, but might move to weekly as the project progresses, and even daily as it nears completion. Review what has been completed, what is to be tackled next, how you are tracking against your goals, timeline and budget, and if there are any unforeseen issues that might impact the project. Not only does this help keep you on track, but it’s also a great way to keep communication open and transparent.
These simple steps form the basis of Project Management. They provide a framework around something that can otherwise be quite unstructured, and get you to your destination more efficiently, with less risk and in a less stressful way. Project management doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming or resource heavy and hopefully you now have the background and confidence (and sat nav), to tackle that project list that will get you to the moon and back!