Project management guide

Whether you’re working on a two week scheme or a year long transformation, successful project management can make a huge difference to your business. Delivery on your goals, efficient use of time and money, a happy team and a job well done – they can all be yours when a project is run smoothly. To help you get the maximum value for your next venture, we’ve put together a guide to project management for small businesses.

Step 1 – Initiate

First up you need to have clear outline of what you want to achieve. Start by writing a business case to define the problem you want to resolve or opportunity you want to take. This will help you stay focused on the outcome as the project progresses.

State the goals of your project. These should have measures of success to go with them, such as increased sales, fewer hours spent on admin or a new brand that your proud of. Make sure you also mark down what you’re not going to do. A project can get bogged down by trying to fix a million things at once, so stating what’s not in scope to begin with will help you stay on track.  

A good project has a clear end point. Sometimes there will be a defined result in mind, like moving to new premises or building a new website. You’ll know the project is complete when you’ve opened your doors or the new website is live.

However, for some projects the end point can be less clear. You might be introducing a new process or way of working. Here the project could be to research what’s right for your business, train your staff, then test how it works. The end point would then be when your happy to pass it over into your normal work stream.

The iron triangle of project management

In project management, you have three constraints that are intrinsically linked – time, resource and scope. This is known as the iron triangle.

With your end point and scope decided, you’ll be able to assign resource to the project. However, if you don’t have enough resource (this could either be staff, skills or money) then you’ll have to adjust either your scope or timeline. If your timeline is flexible, then you can still deliver what you wanted to, but if you have a hard deadline, you’ll have to cut back on your scope. If neither scope or timeline are negotiable, you’ll need to get some more funding or help from somewhere.

The rule of the iron triangle is essentially that something’s got to give. So as your project develops and issues arise, these are crucial trade-offs to have in mind.

Build your team

Depending on the project and the size of your business, you might have a small internal team, or large team with external contributors. Make sure you speak to everyone early, let them know what you’re trying to achieve and if they can support. When it comes to the planning stage you’ll need to budget time with them, so laying the groundwork will help set things up.

If you have a large team, it’s useful to draw up a RASCI. Short for Responsible, Accountable, Support, Consulted, Informed, by putting names next to each you make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what their role is.

Responsible – The person leading and coordinating the project (one person)

Accountable – Answerable for the success of the project – the buck stops here. Approves decisions of the Responsible (one person)

Support – The people that complete the tasks (multiple people)

Consulted – Involved in the decision making process (multiple people)

Informed – Not involved in decisions but kept updated on the project (multiple people)

Stage 2 – Plan

Now it’s time to plan how you’re going to complete the project. What are the key deliverables you need to achieve your goal? For example if you are moving premises, your deliverables might include:

  • Refurbish new premises
  • Move all stock safely and securely
  • Selling old premises
  • Transition/change suppliers to new location

Once you’ve set out your deliverables, breakdown how you’ll achieve each one. This will give you your list of tasks for the project. Work out the owner for each task and who will provide support. Ask the owner to give an estimate for how long it will take. If needed, group deliverables into work streams are and give them an owner too.

Once you’ve mapped this out, define your milestones and dependencies. Where might there be overlaps that need careful coordination? Put all this into a spreadsheet and track the progress of every task as you go.

As a small business owner, chances are that you will be doing a lot of the tasks yourself. If that’s the case, it’s still a good practice to follow. Having every step down in black and white will help you stay on top of your workload and stay organised. It will also show where you can or need to hand off tasks to someone else.  

Remember, everything may not be clear at the beginning! You’ll have to figure things out as you go, but by keeping on top of tasks and deliverables you’ll keep moving in the right direction.

Step 3 – Monitor, support, communicate

Everything is now in place, so it’s time to get going. Lead your team with regular meetings, even if they’re only 30 mins once a week, it’s important to keep communication open and build momentum.

Identify your key decisions as early as possible. What risks, trade-offs or potential options could affect the success of your project? If you’re not the sole decision maker, engage with other stakeholders as soon as you can. Don’t land it on them in a meeting, let them know an issue is coming and give them context beforehand.

Keep communicating throughout. Your team need to be able come to you with any problems quickly, then you need to help and unblock them. If it’s a long project, you can run a recap session half way through to see what is or isn’t working well, then make improvements for the rest of the project.

Remember to engage with the wider group too. They don’t need all the detail, but if the change will affect your staff or clients, they’ll be more willing to get onboard if they’ve been updated.

Step 4 – Implement

The hard work has paid off and it’s now time to implement the change to your business. There are lots of different approaches you can use here, you might run a pilot, have a phased roll-out or just go for complete switch all at once. Decide what’s right for your project and make a launch plan.  

As with the rest of your plan, it should list tasks for the day(s) with the person responsible for each. If there are risks involved, think how you’ll mitigate them. You may need a fall back plan if things don’t go to plan. Going back to our moving premises example, say you need a delivery of fresh produce to the new building. You need it to arrive to be able to open, but it will go to waste if there are any delays. As part of your launch plan, have milestones where you can say yes to proceed, or no to fall back.

Step 5 – Closing

Your project is now complete, but you still have two important things left to do. The first is to capture any learnings from the project. Have a session with those involved, talk about what did and didn’t work. Did you achieve what you set out to? What would you do differently and how? Note them down so you can improve for next time.

Lastly, it’s time to celebrate! You and your team have worked hard on your project, so make time to enjoy getting it over the line and appreciate what you’ve done. It could be a drink after work, a full-blown party, or as simple as some cake in the office.

Always remember – think about the people it will affect

Even if your project has run like clockwork, it can still be undone if the people it affects are against it. People can be very resistant to change, so bring them with you throughout the journey:

Initiate – explain the benefits

Plan – get their input (face to face, surveys, workshops)

Implement – make sure they’re ready (training, Q&A, dry runs)

Close – get feedback

Your project management checklist

Initiate

  • Write a business case
  • Set your goals and end point
  • Decide scope – what are you not doing?
  • Set up your team (use a RASCI if needed)
  • Remember the iron triangle

Plan

  • Outline key deliverables
  • List the tasks for each
  • Give each an owner and support
  • Mark key milestones and dependencies

Monitor, support, communicate

  • Hold regular meetings
  • Keep stakeholders in the loop
  • Raise and address key decisions early
  • Inform the wider group

Implement

  • Pick your approach (pilot, phased, big-bang)
  • Create a launch plan
  • Include milestones and fall-back plans

Closing

  • Get feedback and learn from the process
  • Celebrate!

To fund your next project, check your eligibility for finance in 30 seconds at fundingcircle.com.