Low Cost Strategies to Improve Project Management

Last week I talked to a small business owner about his organisations’ challenges in delivering to clients on time and budget. Time and again his people would work heroically to meet their commitments, working many extra hours and using extra resources. Clients were delighted by his teams dedication. But, this came at a significant cost, with budget overruns, declining profitability and staff burnout. He knew better project management (PM) would improve the situation, but was overwhelmed by the complexity of most project management methods and tools, and given his cash-flow challenges couldn’t afford the high cost of formal PM training.

This is a common challenge for small and medium sized organisations (SMEs). They understand the benefits a better project management capability will produce, but are overwhelmed by the seeming complexity  and can’t justify the high expense. So how do SMEs gain the same advantages their larger competitors do, while remaining agile, and without incurring significant costs? They adopt these six strategies to develop a mature project management (PM) capability:

1. Make Project Management a Strategic Priority: Promote excellence in project management from the top down, ensure everyone in the organisation understands why it is important, their role in delivering projects and the benefits to both the organisation and the individual. Make improving your PM capability a strategic objective throughout the organisation. Develop a plan for improving project management.

2. Focus on your People: PM excellence is achieved by excellent Project Managers. Make sure you have the right people, with the ability and attitude to be great project managers. The best PMs will combine solid planning skills and attention to detail, with the ability to be flexible and have excellent people skills. If you’re hiring, don’t focus too heavily on certifications, focus instead on experience, skills and attitude.

3. Become a Learning Organisation: Be smarter about training, instead of sending people to expensive offsite classroom training adopt Learning 2.0 strategies such as webinars, knowledge sharing, just in time learning, coaching and mentoring. Develop a knowledge management system to capture reusable information and documents. For more formal needs obtain onsite training that is specifically tailored for your organisation, your people and your methods. Not only are the costs significantly lower the learning outcomes for your people will be significantly higher and immediately usable in your organisation.

4. Adopt a Simple Methodology: Most project management methodologies are well suited to large complex projects, and large organisations, but they do not work well for less complex projects in smaller, more agile organisations. Select a methodology that emphasises flexibility and can be tailored to suit your specific needs. Take the time to tailor the methodology and regularly review how well it is working.

5. Don’t buy Expensive Tools: Unless you’re involved in a major construction projects, building rockets for NASA or managing large complex software developments your tool needs are fairly simple. You need to plan who does what and when, create, modify and share documents, collaborate, track and report progress and manage project financials. There are many, inexpensive, cloud based PM tool suites available, chose one that meets your needs, is tailorable, will scale up as you grow and fits your budget.

6. Celebrate Success, Learn from Mistakes: There’s no silver bullet when it comes to developing project management excellence. It takes time, dedication, persistence and encouragement. Capture lessons learnt from all projects, what works, what doesn’t work. Use problem projects as an opportunity for coaching and learning, not blame. Ensure Project Managers receive mentoring from experienced PMs. Above all else, celebrate your organisations successes.

Project Management excellence is the key to successful long term success, without it your organisation will lurch from one challenged client engagement to another, never quite reaching its’ full potential. The good news is, small and medium organisations can develop strong PM capabilities without incurring the significant expense of complex PM methodologies, tools and classroom training. And in doing so SMEs can out-compete their larger competitors by remaining agile while still delivering outstanding project results.