Project Management in Small Business

There comes a time in all companies where a group of people look at each other and wonder, what the heck is going on here?  Small organizations have a tipping point where the projects that they are attempting to manage are no longer able to be easily controlled – they are too big and involved. There are too many other things that need attention. There are too many people to coordinate.  This event is a turning point.  How small business navigates this hurdle will lead to success of failure.  Simply put, how a company starts to manage complex situations will determine the future of the organization.

Small businesses strive to be large.  As a result, they go after big business; in some rights, these small companies cannot manage these projects if they win them.  But management wants the big fish.  What is the best way to start the process of managing these projects? Budgets usually prevent small shops from going out and procuring a high dollar PMP for such work.  Likewise, the ideas that experienced people might want to implement are not always small budget friendly.  How can internal resources or existing employees be tapped to begin the process of bringing a structured project management process to the fold?  Beginning an internal Project Management department within a small business is as much selling the idea to management as selling projects themselves.  How have others been able to navigate these waters to better sell the ideas to department heads or top level brass?

In the end, it is about selling.  Selling the idea that by spending now, we will save in the future.  A company needs to be able to put dollar amounts on how much time it is costing to do the items that do not directly result in paydays.  Management needs to adhere to the old adage that a stitch in time saves nine.  Let that project manager be a stitch in time.  Long term, the entire organization will benefit.

7 thoughts on “Project Management in Small Business

  1. I am not a trained PM – yet I do consider my job to be project management. I think any organization can do it, it is really just careful planning – and you do not necessarily need a PM to do that. This made me think of the discussion we had in class about the different ways organizations structure their project teams. Maybe something like a matrix would be possible? Definitely there would have to be a discussion regarding priorities though – if they want big business, they either need to hire more people or realize that some smaller priorities might fall to the wayside, especially until the team really gets rolling.

  2. As someone in sales, everyday I see exactly what you were talking about above in terms of, “We won the job! Shoot…what do we do now?!” Once that small company wins the big award or the big project, that is their true test of whether they will ever be able to reach the next level. The key is to have a plan and processes in place for when the bid is awarded, so the company is not taken by surprise and thus cannot deliver. Why participate in a bid if you don’t expect to win. Expect to win every bid you enter, plan for the award, and then if it hits, you are prepared and can service your customer.

  3. Small fish always wants to be the big fish. But over spending your way through that journey is not always the right way to go. As a general manager of a relatively small company, I see the monetary wastes that big companies create everyday. Where a big company can spend their way to the top, smaller enterprises often cannot afford to run the same game plan. Small businesses need be more creative with their solutions. A big dollar solution is not always the right answer for a small company. And unfortunately, a lot of the solutions which are out there geared towards the big business, since it will bring in bigger bucks. Therefore, a small company should always check to see if what offered is truly something that they can’t live without or cannot be obtained by other means.

  4. I think the best way a small company can prepare for a large contract bid and win is to be have an action plan that shows how a company will take its existing infrastructure and human capital from x (its present state) to y (state needed to complete contract). Without a realistic plan and schedule, the liability/risk undertaken by a customer will be too large to overcome. As you mentioned, I agree that in the end it is all about selling. However, the largest obstacle, in my opinion, is the internal one. Without management buy-in that the project will add value to the company, the bid will not stand a chance. It may be difficult to decipher whether the real problem is lack of monetary funds or an a well-defined vision of the future and manner in which you will evaluate business projects. At NGC, there are multiple steps the company takes before a contact is rewarded. The process often begins years ahead of an RFP being published through the use of a Stage-Gate review process (more information in the link below). While this may seem counter-productive to have so many meetings and spend so much time to prepare for a bid, I think that this is exactly what makes it so successful. All team members are on the same page, know what the deliverables are, and have an opportunity to voice their opinions/concerns in these meetings. Having this formal process may instill the confidence management needs to fully support the project. With this added confidence and a fully vetted plan, the company will be able to win bids and have executable plans that ensure it will meet its contractual requirements.

  5. Part of the blessing and curse of being an engineer and working for an engineering company is that no project is ever too complex, too difficult, or too big. We are raised and taught to be problem solvers making us feel like we can attack anything. I am in the unique position of watching a company blast off into a growth stage, that to me, is fairly staggering. Six years ago when I started at the company I work for, there were 75 employees with one location in Chicago. Now, the company has 700+ employees with offices all over the country. I will tell you that at the beginning, as the company has grew, it has been a trail by fire with big projects. Complete the project, ask questions later, learn from your mistakes when it is too late. But I can say with confidence that the company is investing quite a lot in its one resource for a consulting firm, people. I have personally received a lot of technical training, management training, numerous certifications, and now an MBA. You are completely right, invents early and invest often in your company.

  6. Your post made me think about the importance of project management in small businesses. One could argue, project management is even more important in small businesses than in larger businesses. Think about it. The resources in a smaller business are fewer, the risk for failure is greater and every project matters more. That is why in a small business it is important to think strategically, to understand cost benefit trade-offs, and to track performance over time. Thank you!

  7. This is an interesting concept especially because I work for a large company with over 10,000 employees and we tend to still see some of the same issues that you noted about smaller companies. Big Fish and budget may always be an issue but I think to answer the question proposed, Scope is one way to start the process of managing these types of projects. If the scope can be identified and a cost estimate drawn out management should be able to see the cost benefit ratio. If its not feasible the company can see on the front end that they can’t, or shouldn’t proceed with the project. However, I think there are cases where risk needs to be taken to gain momentum. For example maybe you take a risk on a smaller project, but you know it can be a quick win that moves momentum in the right direction.

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