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Article 5 simple project management tips for small businesses

When people talk about small businesses and startups, they usually focus on being agile, flexible and adaptive. But for those things to happen, a business needs stable foundations: core processes that just work.

And effective processes often come down to good project management. It lets you get things done faster, with less time and effort. And for a small business, doing more with less is the name of the game.

We’ve collected these simple tips to help you do just that, so you can nail project management in a practical, cost effective way.

And none of these demand that your business undergo major surgery or dramatic upheaval. A few simple habit changes and a bit of discipline combine to make a big impact.

1. Start with a simple plan

Staring down the barrel of a big project can be daunting It can be hard knowing where to start – so chunk it up into bitesize, actionable pieces.

Every project has a start and an end – the target date when you’ll deliver something awesome for your business.

Map these two dates, then fill in the intervening steps on a timeline. Break up your timeline by days, weeks, months—whatever works best. Within that, add in the milestones you want to hit within the timeframe. A useful method for visualizing this is a simple map, showing what needs to be done by when – and by whom. Small steps. Specific milestones. And named people. That’s the essence of project management.

2. Hold regular ‘stand-ups’

Everyone embarks on a new project with the best of intentions. But life in a small business is rarely straightforward and you can quickly find yourself blown off course.

To stay on track, schedule regular check-ins with your project team—some companies call them stand-ups to show they’re short and informal. Your project timeline can dictate how regular these are – but it’s important to ensure they’re frequent. If stand-ups are too far apart, you lose momentum and the project drifts.

Let each person update on the status of their tasks, next steps, and what extra resources they may need.

Limit each person’s time to, say, 2 minutes – that will force people to stick to the key points and keep the conversation focused. We’ve all been in meetings where the conversation goes off agenda. Don’t fall into that trap.

3. Actively manage your time (and help others do it too)

It’s easy for a project to drift. A missed catch-up here, an ignored email there and all of a sudden, your original target date has passed. Small inefficiencies add up to a lot of wasted time.

Find a specific time in each day to plan your activities. If you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of time working on non-urgent projects or checking emails. These may be important, but they won’t help your project progress. Having set times for routine tasks means everyone keeps their discipline around time management. Take control of your schedule – let people know when you’re available to talk, either on the phone or on email.

Set calendar alerts and automatic replies to manage both your own and others’ expectations around availability (there’s more about this in our automation for small businesses blog).

4. Find the right project management tool for you

There are plenty of project tools suited to different kinds of businesses. So we can’t prescribe the best one for you here. But there are features you should expect from whichever one you use.

You can find a list of some great project management platforms for small businesses in

If a project management tool has these basic features, it should prove effective, even if it isn’t tailored specifically to your business:

A free trial – you shouldn’t be locked into a product before you know if it will work for you. The vast majority of reputable platforms will give you a free trial to see if it’s a good fit.

Mobile friendly – You shouldn’t be limited to your desktop. If you’re on the go, you don’t want your notifications to accumulate. A mobile version lets you reply on the fly.

Integrates with other apps – Everything is digital now. Even small businesses rely on a lot of different applications. It makes life infinitely easier if your apps talk to each other, as there is less chance of projects becoming siloed. For example, it’s a huge time saver if your email links into your project management system. And if you’re still wedded to paper, check out 3 big ways paper hurts small businesses.

5. Celebrate successes and learn from mistakes

When you’re in the middle of a project, it can be easy to forget the progress you’ve made. Of course, you won’t be successful until you complete the entire project. But it’s important to acknowledge and reward small wins along the way.

This will motivate you and your team to hit the next milestone. Climbing the mountain doesn’t need to be a slog from start to finish.

On the flip side, mistakes will happen. In a small business, a lot of the things you do will be for the first time. Slip-ups are inevitable. So it’s important to pause, take stock and draw lessons. Share what you’ve learned and encourage your teammates to do the same. The sooner a problem is out in the open, the sooner it can be dealt with.

And be sure to add in extra time to allow for things going wrong. So when things do go off-track (and they will), the project keeps chugging along. In fact, when dealt with in the right way, mistakes can be the catalyst for improved processes and faster growth.

These are simple tips, but they’re also effective. And you’d be surprised how many people don’t use them to their advantage. Build your business on processes that just work. And do it by nailing project management.

References

The Best Project Management Software for Small Businesses and Individuals in 2019 (Zapier)

9 Project Management Time Wasters, Project Planning for Beginners (Project Management Videos)

10 of the best project management tools for small business owners (Creative Boom)