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Why SMBs need to get project management right from the start

Why SMBs need to get project management right from the start

Project management products aren't just for big business. With increasing competition and the always-changing digital landscape, it's important for small businesses to take the grunt work out of critical business processes.

IDC's Top 10 Predictions for Worldwide SMB, 2017-2020 study reports that "what has been the relatively fragmented and improvisational nature of SMB IT spending will begin to echo the coordinated and managed approaches seen among larger firms." That said, if small and midsize business spending is to mimic larger firms, so too should their project management practices.

IDC goes on to say that in 2017 small business IT spending will top $20 billion, with both traditional 2nd Platform (PC, server, network) and 3rd Platform (social, mobile, cloud, big data) spending continuing to grow, as well. And that SMB IT leaders will need to develop "IT staff skill sets that are both domain specific and consultative."

Today, SMB's are increasingly positioned to adopt affordable project management solutions, making it easier to successfully execute projects on time, within budget and within anticipated quality standards.

Adopting a project management solution at the beginning

In 7 project management tools any business can afford, I discussed some of the benefits of web-based PM solutions that can make light work of collaboration and manual tracking of project tasks, time and budgets for any business. But don't just take my word for it, here are some SMB owners who have first-hand experience adopting project management solutions from day one.

Adam Broetje, CEO of Odd Dog Media says for his company, "It was essential for scale and for work quality. We are a blend of a technology and a service company, so to keep on top of all the moving pieces we had to have something that organizes our team's work as we grow. Along with growth comes the inevitable loss in quality, so in order to keep our service top-notch we had to have a way to monitor project progress."

[ Related story: Comparing agile project management frameworks ]

Mark Tuchscherer, president of Geeks Chicago says, "when we started Geeks, all of us worked from home and we didn't have an office, but the first purchase we made was a cloud-based project management system. The reason for this was the [number] of tasks deadlines, and projects we had to manage was astronomical, and the old spreadsheet way of managing things didn't work."

What are the benefits of this approach?

Broetje says in leveraging "dashboards that we provide for our clients, we have to-do lists that we would keep for each client. Trouble was we had to log into each client's account separately to see what was on the list. Ensuring our team was logging into over 75 different clients monthly was hard and managing the progress was even harder."

Here are just some of the key benefits of early PM solution adoption for SMBs that I listed in my previous article.

  • Web-based anytime, anywhere access
  • Scalable to any number of users
  • Employee/team time and tracking
  • Gantt charts
  • Task management
  • User permissions customization
  • Team communication/collaboration/file sharing
  • Budgeting capabilities
  • Standardized workflows/processes
  • Centralize data storage/document management
  • Other apps integration
  • Company branding

How does it help meet project and strategic goals?

At Odd Dog Media, Broetje says that finding the right project management system, slowed them to centralize their to-do lists while also integrating them into the client portals. "Our execution on deliverables saw immediate efficiency improvements (over 30 percent) and our management team now has a high-level overview of progress so our quality has improved as well… We must have tried to implement over 20 different project management systems over the past five years. The biggest lesson learned is that the right mix of features & simplicity is really hard to find but so worth the time to get it right," says Broetje.

Broetje says SMBs should write down the most critical items their system needs to do for their business and advises they keep those items at the forefront of your search. "It's easy to get sidetracked by shiny features and the time/energy it takes to implement the wrong system is back-breaking," he says.

Mark notes that at Geeks Chicago, in addition to having the right project management solution, "We also quickly adopted the agile Scrum methodology with all of our projects. As soon as we started with Scrum, we almost completely eliminated scope creep and 96 percent of our projects launched on time."

[ Related story: IT project success rates finally improving ]

Advice from the experts

To become contenders in already highly saturated markets, it's becoming an imperative for small businesses to ensure they have the right tools, right out of the gate, for successful project management collaboration, documentation, execution and communication. Here is what our experts wish they did more of at the start of their journey.

Don't rush into any project management solution

"If in doubt, you can get by with Google Sheets as a hold-over while you're taking the time to do your software search & vetting properly," says Adam.

Tuchscherer agrees adding: "The one thing I think we would do differently would conduct more research on the software we wanted to implement for our projects. At the start, we did test out three-four systems before we landed on the one we use today."

The bottom line is to make sure you do your due diligence on the tools you go with. Ensure they have the features necessary to succeed and the ability to scale with your business.

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