First Person: 7 Steps to Successful Small Business Project Management

A competent Project Manager (PM) can often be the difference between a highly successful project and a dismal failure. PMs generally must communicate with several different functions within a company or community, and often are tasked with collecting deliverables from contributors who outrank them in both experience and position. For this reason, good PMs tend to be professionally well-rounded, diplomatic and resourceful people. But even the best PMs occasionally encounter show-stopping obstacles. As a small business owner I have often had to play the role of Project Manager. Here are seven steps to pave the way and make the small business project management road less bumpy.

Set the Stage – Since the PM will likely have to get those outside their circle of influence to meet deadlines and attend meetings, the introduction of the PM to the task force should be made by a high-ranking individual within the team. If the president of the sponsoring company or mayor of your town introduces you as the backbone of the project, and insists on compliance with your needs, you will have a much better chance of getting what you need by the time you need it.

Educate Yourself – I have often played the role of Project Manager, and have had to work with people whose jobs are far different from my own. Taking the time to educate myself a little about their function, requirements and limitations has not only earned their respect, but helped me formulate more reasonable expectations.

Insist on Accuracy – As a Project Manager, it won’t take many errors to lose the respect and confidence of your team. I adopt a personal policy of zero tolerance for error, and keep in mind that I am tasked to see the forest as well as the trees.

Break Down Deliverables – Whenever possible, I break down deliverables into multiple tiers, each with its own due date. This helps ensure steady progress and avoid last-minute, inferior work just for the sake of meeting a deadline.

Engage Subordinate Help – When I need to deal with team members in a high position, it is helpful to work as much as possible with that person’s administrative assistant or “go-to guy.” Many times they will be able to get me what I need. At the very least they can usually take some of the heat off me by reminding their boss of what needs to be done by when.

Establish Buy-in – As tasks are assigned and deadlines are established, I make sure I get a “Yes” response from the owner of the task to the questions of, “Is this possible?” and “Do you agree to this?” This makes it much more difficult for them to come to the next status meeting and claim they weren’t given enough time.

Avoid Throwing Others under the Bus – As much as I sometimes want to publicly announce that X didn’t get done because Y didn’t meet his deadline, I avoid this sort of unprofessional team play. These types of conversations may very well need to take place, but when they do, I handle them privately, and only with the people who really need to know.

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