Small Business Have a Big Role
Small businesses play a big role in the overall health of the US economy and in the well-being of a large percent of the population. They employ almost half of people in the workforce and account for about 99.9% of all US businesses. It is apparent that having successful, sustainable small businesses is in the best interests of the country and its citizens. But at a small company level, how should owners and employees manage their work to drive success and ensure their futures? How should they identify and isolate specific actions to drive new business, cut operational costs, ensure employee loyalty? How should they create, deliver and charge for products/services and provide an acceptable level of profit?
What’s Business As Usual (BAU)?
Small businesses can sometimes get caught up in focusing on activities that have made them successful in the past, but may not consider initiatives to ensure ongoing success, growth or scale. This makes sense on some level because it’s that ‘business as usual’ or BAU that is the lifeblood of a company. But, small companies need to consider activities that can lead to new business opportunities or allow them to run their businesses better, if they want to continue to thrive.
A small business would be well-served to institute a practice to identify opportunities for innovation or ‘renovation’ and create new initiatives separate from BAU. If an idea is sufficiently vetted and promises tangible results to the business, undertaking the actions necessary for success can be organized into a project complete with a scope, budget, timetable, assigned resources, deliverables and metrics. While this may seem to invite the bureaucracy and complexity seen in much larger corporations, small businesses can undertake project management at a level that allows appropriate organization and structure to ensure success and institute good business practices that can be applied for future initiatives.
8 Steps for Project Management
So how should small businesses go about project management? First, business owners should consider having regular idea-generating sessions to identify opportunities to innovate for generating incremental revenues or for improving operations for generating incremental profits. Once a good idea has been chosen, take the necessary steps to plan and organize the work create a foundation for success:
- Clearly identify the benefits of doing the project. What is the expected impact on sales or operational expenses? Are there other benefits you desire such as customer loyalty, employee morale, industry recognition or employer wealth and security? When you identify specific, measurable benefits, you justify undertaking the actions necessary to achieve those benefits which can then be organized into a project.
- Create a specific scope of the work to be undertaken. The scope should encompass the exact area(s) of your business that you want to address while putting limits around it to avoid scope creep, which often plagues larger organizations. Simply put, the scope is the body of work you and your team intend to do to achieve your desired results.
- Develop a project plan. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Your project plan should a list of discrete tasks to be completed over a specified timeframe with assigned responsibility. Keep in mind that a plan does not need to be cumbersome or adhere to a specific format. A simple Excel file might suit your needs or, if you’d rather start with a project plan template, try searching the Internet for samples specifically designed for small businesses.
- Set up a team to do the work. Reach into your organization to assign the best team members to your project tasks. If one of your employees helped you come up with an idea for a project, think about giving that person a key role in managing the work. By putting a project structure in place, you will be creating an environment that will stretch you and your team to become more ‘business-like’, moving from technicians working a craft to managers driving a project.
- Identify tangible ‘deliverables’ or work products that you expect to create during the initiative. Deliverables might include the creation of a new web page to attract niche customers or a defined set of work practices to boost productivity. You don’t need to solve the problem up front when coming up with deliverables, but try to identify what you expect to create, so you’ll have something to show for your efforts after you complete the project.
- Come up with a budget. Having a budget does not mean that you must earmark a specific dollar amount to complete the initiative. It may be better to approximate how much time you want to dedicate to the project for yourself or for your employees. For example, you might allocate a certain number of hours per week for you and your selected team to have meetings, make customer calls, document processes in the warehouse or do any other activities over the course of the project. You might also allot a specific amount for expenses such as travel, supplies or outside services. These elements can constitute a budget that you put in place up front to ensure you and your team are putting a reasonable amount of effort into achieving your goals, and not wasting time and money in the process.
- Identify specific ways to measure your results. Define the metrics you will use to determine if the project is successful. You’ve already identified the outcomes you want to achieve when you justified doing the project. Now you’ll need to put together a few key performance metrics to determine if you achieve those outcomes. Check whether your metrics are well stated using the SMART technique: are they Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused and Time-bound? Use these metrics to track achievement of objectives over the course of the project and when it’s completed to ensure you’re making sustainable changes.
- Communicate early and often with your team. If you are embarking on a new way of approaching work, your employees are going to notice. Tell them up-front what you are planning and why you are doing it. Involve them in the process and make it clear why the intended change is good for the company and good for the individuals. Ask for input and feedback as you go along. Celebrate success and look for obstacles that may inhibit progress, so you can be proactive in managing them.
To get started in using project management for improvement initiatives at your company, it might be wise to engage outside help. Cogent Analytics has a staff of experienced consultants to can help you identify game-changing ideas to improve your business and set up the project structure you need to ensure success. Even small businesses can benefit by leveraging practices usually employed by larger organizations. Just be sure to equip yourself with the appropriate resources and tools for your specific needs and get ready to plan and execute projects to help you build your future!
At Cogent Analytics, we never stop looking for ways to improve your business and neither should you. So, check out some of our other posts for helpful business information: