How to Manage Big Projects at Your Small Business
How would you handle completing a major project in addition to overseeing day-to-day operations? Big businesses tackle large projects all the time, but they also have the personnel, budgets, and infrastructure that smaller companies lack. Your big project could be anything from overhauling the company website to researching competing businesses to explore the possibility of a merger.
While you may always feel pressed for time, it is possible to tackle a big project and keep it from overwhelming you and your business. The key is to manage the project by approaching it in steps and working methodically to the finish. Here are the five phases of any project -- and how to approach each one.
Launch is when you identify the project's main objective and why it's important to your business. And then you double-check to make sure the project is worth the time you're about to spend on it.
"There is a lot that you can do to better manage the project, but the single biggest thing you can do is to pick the right project in the first place," says Stuart Easton, CEO of software manufacturer Transparent Choice. "We often see companies with a third of their projects obsolete before they are even halfway complete," Easton says.
In the planning phase you will look at what needs to be done and create a timeline for all tasks, some of which may be dependent on one another. Creating a timeline is especially crucial to keeping the entire project on track.
The timeline can be plugged into a simple spreadsheet or a specific program designed for the task -- as long as you track it somehow.
"Utilizing project management software is an essential aspect of ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks and the project is completed on time," says Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory, a public relations firm.
And it's important to designate someone as the project manager. As the small-business owner that is likely to be you, but you should also look to your team for someone who has the organizational skills to keep the big project on track.
If no one on your team has the right skill set, perhaps someone in your circle of fellow entrepreneurs can help. "A friend of mine and I responded to a request-for-proposal for a rebranding campaign for a local nonprofit," says Stacy Lindenberg, owner of Talent Seed Consulting. "We were both new entrepreneurs competing against established agencies, but we won the job. She handled her area of expertise which was graphic design and branding. I managed the project and client communication and we both collaborated on strategy. We also called in my neighbor who runs a signage company as well as other vendors that we had used before to submit their quotes for certain elements of the project.
"The experience opened my eyes to just how many people we knew that had the bandwidth and specialties that we could hire for specific project elements," Lindenberg says.
This is when you are moving out of the planning phase and into the doing stage. This is the time to organize the project into manageable steps and begin tackling them.
"Fewer, better steps with assigned due dates and champions for different aspects helps with this," says Patty DeDominic, COO of Maui Mastermind business coaching.
Be brutally honest with yourself during this phase and evaluate whether or not each step is necessary to the outcome of the project. In some occasions you might realize that a project can be narrowed down or simplified, saving time and money.
In this phase the designated project manager must keep an eye on what is being done, delegate new tasks that arise, and communicate with all involved. Even if you are a team of one tackling the big project, tracking what has been completed and what comes next is key to reaching the finish.
"A good project manager can only guide a project to completion if he knows the direction to move all of the pieces," says David Reischer, CEO and founder of LegalAdvice.com.
Push yourself to complete the project in accordance with your timeline. The day you cross the finish line with the information you needed or the outcome that you were looking for is the day you know you can manage a big project at your small business by taking it step-by-organized-step.
Looking for more info on how small teams can manage complex projects? Check out Intuit QuickBase's live webinar on the topic on Tuesday, June 24, at 2pm EDT.
Carla Turchetti is a veteran broadcast, print and digital journalist who is passionate about small businesses and the stories behind them. Carla is a small-business columnist at the News & Observer, the regional daily newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina.