You’re a small business, maybe even an entrepreneur, and you think you don’t need project management tools. But you are wrong.
Maybe “need” is too strong a word, but certainly, no matter how small the business, you can benefit from learning project management techniques.
How project management can help you
Every small business tackles projects, from upgrades to major tasks. Small businesses run lean and mean, and project management techniques can help you bring that project in more efficiently, lower cost, shorter timeline to completion, and fewer headaches.
And that’s welcome in any size business.
Once you start tracking your projects in a software application, you can see trends, find out easily where you’re bogging down in costs or personnel, and where your team shines. This lets you become more competitive and helps your organization run smoothly. And you become better able to assess your project.
Have I sold you?
Where do I start?
Keep it simple. If you have the option between simple and complex, opt for simple.
If you’re like many small businesses and entrepreneurs, nearly half of those surveyed in fact, you are managing projects manually.
Let me guess.
Your desk is littered with stacks of reports, your Inbox is full of status reports, or you have little yellow sticky notes with partially completed to-do lists covering your monitor.
It may seem simple to jot notes down in a notebook or a spreadsheet, but once you begin to use project management techniques, you may want to move to a dedicated software application.
What is a project?
Project management is so much more than the tool you use.
In general, projects are different from day-to-day business. They are temporary tasks that encompass many smaller tasks in order to reach a successful outcome.
Projects can be as simple as purchasing new laptops for your field sales staff, or as complex as bidding on a construction project for a new subdivision.
Project management is just that – managing all the individual components that add up to that finished project.
- Defining the project and listing requirements
- Defining the end result, such as a list of deliverables
- Creating a timeline and matching tasks to the timeline and people to the tasks.
- Listing legal requirements and risks and defining ways to deal with those.
In addition, project management includes people skills, such as motivating yourself and the others on the project to stay focused, working with the client to manage expectations and define the scope, and overseeing all the phases of the project.
Some project management tools and techniques are intuitive, such as tracking time and expenses for every step of a project. Others are more complex. Your project defines how complex your project management techniques must be.
Start With A List
Let’s start with a manual exercise:
- Write out all the steps of your project on paper.
- Review every aspect of the project that you’ve just detailed.
- Assign resources as needed to every step.
That’s project management 101. You did it. This is the starting point for a project plan and this list can be considered a simple project plan.
The 3 step exercise above is a powerful one even though it’s simple.
For example, I completed this exercise for creating websites using the Amazon Affiliate program. The project of creating such a site is massive and spans months. In fact, there are over 100 individual tasks from start-to-finish, but the process of writing it clarified the project and allowed me to divide the work into phases. Another result was the ability to outsource pieces of work that were independent.
Now let’s look at some project management skills and tips to help you.
Basic PM Skills
A project has one major goal. But inside that goal are smaller goals, and each goal has several objectives.
Let’s take a home project, a dinner party. The overall goal is to present a beautifully prepared gourmet-like meal in a well-decorated and tasteful environment.
You have a timeline because the party is a set day. That’s your major goal.
But as you can see, within that goal, you have smaller goals:
- The table setting
- The menu
- The decorations for the home
- And of course, you have to invite the guests
Within the smaller goal of the menu, your objectives might be to find out about any food allergies or strong preferences, make a shopping list, assign prep tasks to your children, ensure that you have adequate tools.
You are managing that project like a pro!
Using project management skills such as tracking time, assignments, objectives, and costs will help to prevent “oopsies” like forgetting to put the turkey on in time, or seating Aunt Sandy next to your neighbor Fred, whom she doesn’t like.
Or in business terms, missing deadlines, realizing you don’t have anyone assigned to a key objective, or having to do too much work yourself because you were unable to see how much was involved when you bid on the project.
Project Management Tools and Apps
Let’s look at some tools to help you organize the next project.
Spreadsheets are one of the first project management tools that business owners use. They are straight-forward, relatively easy to use, and can collect vast amounts of information into one file. The information in a spreadsheet can be manipulated and used for charts and graphs.
You’ve got a lot of choices when using spreadsheets:
- If you have the Microsoft Office suite, you’ve already got Excel. Did you know that you can use the Microsoft Office tools online for free? You just need a Microsoft account to access them. Go to office.com to read about this service.
- Google Drive offers its spreadsheet version, Google Sheets. To access Google Drive, go to drive.google.co to download the application to your computer or mobile device.
- Other spreadsheet apps are available in free office software suites such as Apache OpenOffice, Kingsoft Office, and LibreOffice.
- There are free dedicated spreadsheet programs as well, simply search the Internet and select your favorite.
Specialized Project Management Applications
Several project management tools allow you to work very efficiently and effectively. Your choice depends on how you like to work, what your projects encompass, and of course, your budget.
Let’s review a few.
Trello is a very visual project management software, so if you’re a visual person, this may be your go-to software. At its heart is the concept of a bulletin board, with “cards” that you and your team can use to discuss, collaborate on, and manage the project.
You can create a project, add members to the project, and then create cards for each small goal. For instance, in the dinner party example, you might have a card for the menu, invitations, decorations, cooking, and table decor.
Each card can include photos, discussions, and checklists. You can add due dates, attachments, and perform actions for each task, such as copying it or moving it to another project. You can even call for a vote of the members.
Trello has a notification system that can alert you across all your devices when something happens with your project.
Trello is my current favorite tool since it’s very easy to train new team members and project management novices.
Asana works within a website concept, and you might like this software if you like the clean look of a blog or website for each project. You can easily create a project by starting with a list of tasks. You can see all the tasks in a dashboard and quickly assign people to the tasks, and set a deadline. Everything is accessible from your computer or mobile device.
You can select a task to view progress toward goal in a graph, and get status updates from team members. You are alerted when anything in your project changes.
As your team discusses the tasks, you can snag ideas from the discussion and make them actionable tasks, assigning team members immediately.
You’re provided an Asana Inbox within the tool, and team messages are delivered by task, so you can quickly sort them and prioritize your work.
Using the project calendar, you can switch between a task view and overall calendar view.
Basecamp is for managers who value high communication about their projects. Basecamp is a paid tool so I see that fewer people are starting to use it and end up using Asana instead.
This communications-based project management software provides you with six tools:
- Message board and comment threads keep discussions about project tasks on topic and in one place. Team members can attach files and images in their messages and others can comment about the message.
- Real-time chat allows project members to instantly share ideas, get feedback, or ask crucial questions.
- Automatic check-ins mean you don’t have to beg for status reports because the tool does the work for you.
- To-do lists allow you to break the project down into smaller tasks, as we did with the dinner party above, so that you can track each task to completion.
- Docs and file storage keep documents, images, and files concerning the project is in one place.
- Centralized schedule is used to track milestones, deadlines, events, and task assignments. Due dates are posted and the schedule can be added to your calendar.
Project® by Microsoft
Microsoft Project is a complex project management software that you might consider if you work with corporate clients or have corporate experience. It’s bulky, but complex, and allows you to track every aspect of every task and review the project overall in one expandable list.
Creating your project is done through customizable templates. Select from a variety of templates, or develop your own.
Project planning is done with familiar features such as Gantt charts. To make it easier for you, the tool prepopulates pulldown menus.
Reports can be shared across the team quickly and easily with pre-configured report templates.
You can view all the timelines for all the tasks of the project in one list. This list can be expanded, or you can sort to share important timeline information with clients or with your team.
And you can share your project information across all your devices, computer and mobile devices.
You can manage every aspect of large projects in one place, create quick reports, and deliver status information to clients using the customizable formulas and menus in the tool.
Where do you go from here?
Project management skills are essential for business of every size, from the one-person office to the major corporation. For small businesses, time and money are crucial to landing and completing projects. You can’t afford to spend more time or more money delivering your project. Project management gives you that boost you need to deliver on-time, efficient, and cost-effective projects.
If you haven’t started using project management techniques, you can get instruction online or take a class at a local college. But if you’re small, you’re lean and mean.
Start with just one simple method, such as:
- Making a list of every goal in your project
- Then every objective contributing to the goal
- Assign a due date and team member to every objective.
If you’re a singleton, that would be you! Prioritize every task.
Use your project list to calculate costs, and track expenditures for every task as your project proceeds.
Transfer this simple list to a spreadsheet, then enter the due dates on your calendar. If these due dates are assigned to others, “invite” them to the task. Set a reminder.
Use cloud storage or a central shared drive to collect documents and files pertaining to the project.
Create a simplified subject line for project emails, such as “Dinner party menu” and sort your Inbox before answering mail.
You’ve taken a major step to bringing in your projects on time, on cost, and with the minimum of muss, fuss, and drama. Congratulate yourself!
About the Author
Bio: Doug Cunnington is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and the founder of Niche Site Project. He writes about the intersection of internet marketing, productivity, and project management. Doug has over 10 years of project management experience in the corporate world working with industry leading and innovative companies such as AT&T, Accenture, and Sprint.