How does project management fit into a small business?

November 10, 2010

How does project management fit into a small business?

The best way to think about how project management can fit into a small business or small organization is to simply look at the efforts that the small company may be already using to manage their projects. You will probably find tools and techniques of formal project management canon in use within many small business processes or projects.

Too often, we think of project management only in terms of the tools used by a PM and the upfront effort it takes to load the tools with the project data and then upkeep the tools, spreadsheets, documents etc… Maybe this is due to the fact that we see these parts of project management most often, and forget to focus on the actual end result of using these tools. Those end results are the accountability, measurement, and collaboration [1], the tools provide. We tend to assume we can manage these results in a small business without any formal process and may often achieve success with quick and simple projects. But when a project of some complexity comes along, those of us at small companies will use spreadsheets, meetings, and documentation to help us work the project. Is this not an informal project management effort also? Are the business unit leaders or functional managers not acting as the PM of the projects they have to accomplish?

So to ask, how can project management fit into a small business, is a question that can be answered by admitting that project management informally already exists in most businesses, but it may not be as efficient as it could be under a managed, or controlled approach.

Some project managers may argue that Project Management is more successful in smaller businesses. One PMP writes” we were able to use the good practices embodied in brand-name processes, together with our own good sense to get the job done”[2]. This is in part to the small teams, more direct lines of communication within teams and the organization, and the flexibility and freedom to improvise quickly that are benefits of being in a smaller business.

One thing to keep in mind with introducing more formal project management into a small business is to keep the overhead involved to a minimum, not just in people or time, but in the complexity of the processes and standards you may use. “Decide on a simple and proven approach to project management. If you choose something too complicated, no one will follow it.” [3] You want your employees to support the more formal process of PM and having their buy in is crucial in a small team environment, plus not to mention the support of the stakeholders and sponsors. In a smaller business, those can be the same persons as the ones doing the project work! Their focus will be more on the problem at hand. Using light weight methods and tools to manage the project will help ease the stigma of project management to those with no previous exposure to it.

"There’s so much rigor and normally so much documentation and so many processes you have to go through to follow a methodology that it weighs you down and that you can’t move as quickly as the business needs”[4]- Meredith Levinson, CIO . This is why those of us on the outside of the PM world tend to think of project management as a discipline not suited for smaller businesses. However, if we pull back the cover of the PMBOK, we can find that Project management isn’t a tool or method of work, but a focused approach to solving business problems that can be adapted to suit the speed, size, and scope of today’s smaller businesses. Smaller organizations can benefit from project management if they take the time to investigate and learn the basic principles of a more formal Project management framework, then use that knowledge to create a targeted framework for their organization. Shouldn’t small businesses want to get the most out of the projects and efforts they may be doing today? I think so.

-Joey Beck , October 2010

[1] Nick Rice PMP, http://www.smallbusinessbranding.com/532/the-call-for-project-management/ Aug 2006.

[2] Neil Posnansky PMP, http://pmstudent.com/project-management-in-small-business/ , May8, 2010.

[3]Michelle Labrosse PMP, http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/growing-your-small-business-with-project-management.html

[4] Meredith Levinson, CIO , http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/150438/why_your_project_management_practices_are_failing.html Aug 2008.

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2 Responses to “How does project management fit into a small business?”

  1. Douglas Craddock Jr said

    After reading your article my intentional thoughts of project management being the best suited plan for all business has changed. Formally I thought that the tool would be beneficial to any business regardless of size etc, my taking out what you need and somewhat customizing it for the use of your business. One specific quote that drew me to this conclusion was that of “There’s so much rigor and normally so much documentation and so many processes you have to go through to follow a methodology that it weighs you down and that you can’t move as quickly as the business needs”[4]- Meredith Levinson, CIO , very straight to the point and is speaking from experience. Smaller businesses usually adapt to change faster and incorporate these changes over the company with little if any apprehension.

    • Mike Gann said

      I keyed in on that quote as well, mainly because I see that as an obstacle in many of the small businesses I deal with daily, including my own company. Most smaller businesses are so dynamic that there’s usually a high resistance to doing anything that might stifle forward momentum, even if it can be shown that implementing some process will be of benefit. Usually, they realize the need for a more formalized approach when it’s already too late – i.e. ‘our entire business runs off an Excel spreadsheet that exists on one machine and is accessible by one person who decided to quit today.’ It happens pretty frequently.

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