How is work most often accomplished at your small business? If yours is like most companies, you and your managers create projects to complete a task—developing a website, designing a marketing piece, creating a new product or service, and the other activities that are critical to the success of your business.
And while it's critical to have some type of organized method to get those tasks completed, many small-business owners don’t use a standard system for accomplishing work tasks. The problem with that approach? It can cost you money—if you're consistently reinventing the wheel to get work done in your business, it will definitely impact your bottom line.
Using project management skills to get your projects done will help you create effective systems so you can more easily achieve your goals. The good news is, you don’t need to have formal project management certification to create a system that works for you. Being proficient in the following three key skills will take you a long way to success.
1. Project Planning
Planning is key to successfully completing the objective at hand. You need to be clear about the expected outcome and the tasks that need to be accomplished to get it done. The first step is to identify the scope of the project. How big is it? What are the boundaries? Who is it for? I like to call this "creating your box." You're literally identifying how big your project will be, along with what’s in (and out) of the box.
Then you need to make sure you brainstorm every single task that needs to be accomplished to get from idea stage to the final outcome. Don’t worry about putting the tasks in order—just brainstorm what you think needs to happen. Once you’re done brainstorming, arrange the tasks in the most logical sequence for getting your project completed. As you put them in order, it’s possible you may think of additional tasks—that's OK, just add them in.
You’ll also want to include your estimated budget for the project. Be realistic when creating your budget—erring on the conservative side can be detrimental to your bottom line. While this may flex one way or another during completion, having an initial budget will help you stay within your budget.
2. Team Management
Whether you use employees or contract staff, you want to make sure to include every team member who has a part in the completion of your project. Determining whom you need with what type of skills before you begin will help you more realistically plan your project. Take a look at all your project tasks to determine exactly what type of talent you need to complete each task.
Once you have your team together, define who will do what and when. Make sure you clearly identify those tasks that have dependencies between different team members.
Having one team member fall behind on a task that others are waiting for can put your entire project in jeopardy, so be sure to clearly designate roles and responsibilities for each team member. It’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet or tracking form that includes task, team member and timeline to use for the duration of the project.
There's no such thing as communicating too much when you’re working on a project with multiple people. So, when planning your project, be sure to designate topics, people and timelines for communication of a specific nature, such as team meetings or weekly emails.
In addition to general, day-to-day communication about the project, you should include both short-term and long-term ways that people should stay in contact. You want to stay on top of what’s happening in the short term and solve any problems that could be stumbling blocks, but you also don’t want to lose sight of the long-term goal.
The best way to do this is to set up a schedule of communication activities. These will include both individual and team meetings. In order not to waste your team’s time spinning their wheels with inefficiency, plan what will be covered in each meeting in advance—this will help your project run more smoothly.
Also plan to have regular check-ins with your entire team. These should be held at least weekly for a project that has a long duration and as often as daily for a project that has a shorter timeline. You should discuss both the general health and status of the project as well as address any immediate issues that need to be resolved.
Make sure your team understands when to communicate what information and what constitutes a “show stopper” situation. Nothing is worse than moving along blindly thinking everything is going fine with your project when it’s not.
Following a few key project management activities will help you and your team successfully pull off any work project, no matter how big.
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