Q: What is project management and can I use it in my small business?
A: Project management is a tool that has been used for many years in large businesses to help them manage large complex undertakings, such as bridge construction, building design, software development and more. Until recently, the tool has not been as widely used in small business.
That is changing now with the realization that project management software can also be effectively used by small businesses, primarily because it helps managers plan, execute and evaluate their operations by controlling the key variables of cost, time and quality.
These variables play an important role in the successful management of complex tasks, whether they are in a small or large business environment. Use of project management techniques can help assure that what needs to be done and when; at what cost; and will be clearly known by anyone involved with the task. Most of all, the outcome of the effort will be a high-quality product or service that meets and exceeds the standards set in the original plan.
Setting up a project can be fairly easy. What needs to be known initially are the overall objectives of the plan and when the work will start. It is possible also to work backward from a date when the work needs to be finished, and through the process of calculation of task start and finish time, you can then develop a required start date.
The next step is to determine the tasks that need to be accomplished and their sequence. For example, the walls need to be up before a roof can be placed on a building. Tasks have predecessors and successors, and have costs for manpower, machine time and other associated items, such as setup and maintenance. The total amount of time that the entire sequence of tasks requires represents the schedule — in other words, the start and finish dates.
Next is a computation of total costs to accomplish the tasks according to the schedule. Costs, both human and nonhuman, must be included to have a complete picture of the project budget. Once having totaled all costs, we arrive at the figure designated as the budget.
We can then develop standards for quality in all aspects of the tasks and costs. The length of time for task completion is an estimate before the work is done, just as cost is an estimate before spending begins. Performance standards demand that the work is done on time and under budget with continuous maintenance.
Monitoring the progress of a project is accomplished by inserting milestones throughout, from start to finish. A milestone is a point where scheduled tasks and expenditures, as well as quality standards can be reviewed and adjusted where necessary. It is possible that schedule and budget might need revisions, but it is better to know this while the work is underway rather than at the end.