Articles - Putting into place project management processes for SMEs (Small/Medium Businesses)

By Manjeet Singh

To many SME managers, the majority of project management literature can seem overwhelming, complex or downright inapplicable to their business environments. However, fast moving SMEs inevitably at some point of their development face the challenge of putting into place project management processes in order to handle their growth and/or improve the products or services that they provide.

Oftentimes the major added value of SMEs is their agility and ability to quickly bring to market products or services – therefore, any initiative that structures this ability or takes time away from the employees is bound to run into resistance. Project management procedures therefore have to be intelligently scaled to fit the requirements of such SMEs – otherwise such procedures will be perceived as hurdles and overly bureaucratic by the employees. Another challenge is that SMEs generally cannot afford to have an employee who is 100% of his or her time dedicated to the implementation of project management processes. The same employee will often have to implement project management processes, and handle daily operations at the same time. In this article, I outline a simple approach to handle the implementation of project management procedures in an SME. The assumptions made in this approach are:

  1. Within the SME there wasn’t an employee who had prior experience in putting into place project management processes.
  2. Projects undertaken by the SME are of a similar type with lots of common activities.
  3. The timeframe for learning about the company’s product/services is 2-3 months.

The approach:

  1. Once the need for structuring the processes is identified, recruit a project manager who has already implemented project management processes in a previous company – this employee will be referred to the Process Specialist (PS) throughout this article.
  2. Over the next 2-3 months the PS works in the company and understands how the company manages projects. During this phase, he or she will be collecting information on the processes (or lack of them) in the company.
  3. With strong support from senior management, the PS will now start working on the implementation of project management processes by holding a number of meetings with other employees involved in projects.
  4. Based on the feedback from these meetings, the PS will capture the existing project activities, and start grouping them under headings (creation of a work breakdown structure).
  5. Once the WBS is ready, the next step is to create network diagrams that show the relationships between the activities. At this point in time, depending on the availability of financial resources, an easy-to-implement project/knowledge management solution should be selected – once this is done, send the PS for training on the selected solution.
  6. Working with other employees, the PS should now document for each activity: its nature, the skill set of people required, risks, drivers, duration, and what if scenarios.
  7. A picture of how projects work in the company will now start emerging.
  8. The next step is to identify the critical path of the project, and map the project plan onto an advanced Gantt chart that shows the relationships between the activities. If identified, any best practices should be fleshed out, and documented for circulation in the company.
  9. The PS should now select templates that will be used for meeting reports, change requests, project presentations, statement of work, project plan, emails, project handover, project closure/evaluation reports, and so on.
  10. At this point in time, the company has to select a project to test drive the project plan, templates, and best practices.
  11. Training should be provided on the project/knowledge management solution that has been selected to employees who will work on the project selected in point 10.
  12. All of the project documentation gathered so far must be by now electronically accessible via the project/knowledge management solution selected.
  13. Once a project has been accomplished using the above-mentioned elements, the PS should create a project evaluation report, and update the project processes, templates and best practices using the lessons learned from the project.
  14. A standard procedure should now be established for all subsequent projects -- at the end of each project, the project manager should update the project/knowledge management system and circulate the project’s lessons learned document within the company.

Conclusion: if properly scaled, project management processes can be implemented in fast moving SMEs. What is required is strong support from senior management, enough time for the PS so that he or she is not caught up in operations 100% of the time, and a scaled approach that is less formal than that used in larger corporations. An easy-to-implement project/knowledge management solution will also help in sharing best practices across the company.

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