Today we’d like to talk Implementing Project Management For Small Businesses with Yemisi Alabi. She has over 8 years experience in project management with both local and international businesses. Currently, she is independently working with small businesses.T
I didn’t plan on project management as a career; I stumbled into it. It has been fun. I love Project Management…it is my life. I have the opportunity to explore different sectors. I studied Electrical Engineering for my first degree. Project Management gives one insight into many areas. I have worked on construction, media and entertainment, etc. (Media and entertainment projects, by the way, are fun!) I have managed a number of projects across different sectors and it’s been an amazing journey.
Project management. Terms used in project management
A project is a temporary endeavour taken to produce a unique product and service. It has defined beginning and an end. That’s the difference between a project and a process. A process is repetitive. A lot of businesses are run by processes and operations. Managing a project on the other hand, is the discipline of planning, coordinating, resourcing and bringing together all the different parts of a project to deliver it.
Does one have to be a certified project manager to manage a project?
No. However, a project manager has to deploy the tools needed to execute the project. These tools are not really known by those who haven’t gone through project management training. For e.g., project management has nine knowledge areas: human resource, scope, cost, time, quality, procurement, etc. Small businesses might know these but planning for each of them is rarely done. This is what leads to project failure most times. Proper project management will know these areas and plan for them before they happen.
So someone starting a business that understands PM can execute PM?
Maybe. But there are different sides to a project. And because no one has a monopoly of knowledge and ideas for any project, inputs are always sought from experts to enable one make accurate decisions and plans. For e.g., a good project manager might ask the finance person about the latest tax information so as to be able to plan finances for the project. He would also depend on human resources to take care of staffing – adhoc, freelance and outsourced staffing. A project manager has a holistic view of everything and where to encourage the small business to focus on before the project is started.
What if there’s no resource to hire a project manager?
Well, one would have to study. Or sit down and plan properly.
How do we implement PM in small businesses?
Let’s start from the project stage. Talking briefly through this stage, I like telling people to get help and information from experts like lawyers to read contracts and sorts; to gather all information and capture everything as they bid. This ensures they don’t run into financial problems when the project starts.
A lot of SME owners double as their business’ executives and as project managers. Because of this, the business will tend to suffer because of projects. A project has a defined end; two years, for example. So I tell them to give their businesses the absolute attention it needs. The overwhelming burden that comes with projects could be a strain on the business owner. Allocate a good amount of time to the business and to the project.
The best thing to do is to develop a scope statement. This is a document that captures all the project will do. In there, the scope description, project deliverables, constraints, etc. are captured. This also includes all the assumptions needed for planning – e.g., cost assumptions made due to fluctuating currency rates. The scope statement can be used to guide another person on his or her own plans for the project.
A project is usually taken through the phases of PM: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control and closure. After the scope statement is drawn up, the planning is started. Here there is the need for experts, cost and risk plans – both for foreseen and unforeseen risks that might occur or not occur, human resources, and procurement – taking into consideration the lead and lag times.
Allow some time for procured items to get to the project site. This is where the importance of one’s network is realised. A law practitioner friend can be used to review legal documents, for example, and an engineer friend can give an insight on how to build structures in the rainy season. As an SME, those little helps are needed. Management of time is also important.
For IT projects, scope creep (scope having an uncontrolled growth and constantly reviewed upwards till it is greater than initially planned for) is important. This happens when a client constantly requests for additions to be made. This is because there is always a new innovation in the tech sector. This has an impact on cost and delivery deadline. Therefore, there needs to be an understanding between project manager and client to be able to review the cost of the entire project due to this.
Power of influence
An essential tool in PM is the power of influence. It is important to me to believe in the project I do. I would do a research to make sure the project is feasible and will achieve the business objectives. If it wouldn’t, I would try to convince the client about the lack of feasibility.
After the planning stage, execution starts. During this phase, an assistant is needed. If the budgeting had been done, there should be some allowance to pay the assistant. In this phase, WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) is used to break down the project into deliverable bits. Assumptions as to the client’s approval cannot just be made. A progress report is always presented to the client to keep him abreast of progresses made at different times or periods.
Milestones are also used in PM. They are achievements that have a zero duration but are agreed upon as points used to judge progress. When milestones are reached, it is nice to celebrate and encourage the team to keep being passionate about the project. Some clients pay by milestones. Projects go through different routes. There is no one rule fitting all.
Note that nothing guarantees everything going to plan. It is not indicative of being a bad project manager. At this point, emotional intelligence and personal management are important. Be sure to not pass on the fear to the client and team members. This is where influence comes in – to get the team to still be on the job even when things don’t go as planned.
Project scheduling – different activities of the project are programmed to happen one after the other or with each other.
As the project is being executed, sometimes clients request for key deliverables in the execution phase. One has to make sure those deliverables are hit as required. Once it is clear that the project won’t make a deadline, it is advised to fast track and crash a project – getting more hands to execute the project or collapsing a lot of scheduling to run concurrently. This might cost a little more but the end game is to meet up with the deliverables.
In your years of experience as project manager, what is your major challenge working on a project in Nigeria?
The major one has been timeline management and having the client give me absolute control of the project. Most times I give progress reports so the boss or client can see what I am doing so as to get the trust to deliver. The challenge is clients giving project managers unrealistic timelines. I advise SMEs to tell the client upfront if a deadline is unrealistic.
What top three skills would you advise an SME project manager to have?
One is great interpersonal skills with every type of person. Two is excellent planning skills. The project manager needs to have his or her act together. The third? Well…those two are tops for me.
PMP, PRINCE2, etc. Which certification do you advise me to go for?
All these are methodologies. In Nigeria, what seems to be mainstream is PMP. In the UK, PRINCE2 is usual. I don’t know about AGILE as I haven’t studied it. Some IT projects use it. I have trained in both PMP and PRINCE2, but quite frankly PMP is very easy for me. This is what I started with. If one has to handle an international project, then maybe one can use PRINCE2.
How can an SME implement Project Management even in the little processes?
Whatever an SME does, the essential thing is to plan. Time should be taken to break down and itemize the plan. Programme management (running multiple related projects at the same time) is key. A sand deliverer can leverage resources in achieving efficiency in supplying sand from different locations to different locations.
What are the challenges likely faced by an organisation that hasn’t implemented Project Management?
Well planning is important so as not to run into finance issues. This is the major challenge an SME can face. The competing constraints of scope, time, cost and quality need to all be balanced so as not to trade off any of them. There is the risk of project failure if these are not taken into consideration. Project success is not merely delivering. The quality is important within a timeline and cost and scope planned. It is a failure if a project is delivered but without fulfilling on the constraints.
Another challenge for SMEs is organizational structure. It shouldn’t be left till the organisation is big. The business doesn’t have to be up to 20 employees to have structure. I insist on structure and how things should be done. Otherwise, anything will go. There should be predefined objectives, metrics and deliverables that must be achieved. Ensure there are accurate finance systems such that there is no clash on the constraints of scope, quality, time and cost.
Can we get a practical view of how Project Management impacts on SMEs?
A business is a going concern. It is run based on operations. However, if the business is a project-based one, it is possible then that as an SME, you will have many projects at the same time. All you need is to stick to plan and insist on scope creep not occurring, you will smile to the bank. If you don’t plan for risk, for example, then there might be failure. If you are a service-based business, if you don’t factor in tax, then you will be in trouble when the tax authorities come knocking.
This text is derived from the live video of 19-03-2018 broadcast from Wary Pen at ReDahlia Workspaces, 43B Emina Crescent, Off Toyin Street, Ikeja.
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