The smaller your company, the greater the impact of failed projects on your business. That’s why project management is crucial for SMEs in particular. While every project is different, the following fundamentals can make virtually all of them run smoothly.
Considering these principles from the get-go is a surefire way to significantly increase your chances of success.
Questions to ask
Before and during a project, ask yourself three main questions:
1. What has to be done?
These are the defined tasks that have to be completed to achieve the project’s goals. In many cases, they will be interdependent. This means that one task can’t start before another one is completed.
2. When should it be done, and in which order?
Define the starting points, endpoints, and the order in which the various tasks have to be performed.
3. Where does the project stand?
In order to answer this last question, you’ll need to set milestones: defined phases of your project linked to a budget target and the expected result. Having a clear view of your milestones will be a tremendous help in efficiently planning your project and reacting to changes.
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The iron triangle of project management
Put in another way, every project has three interdependent dimensions or limitations: time, cost, and scope. Together, they form the ‘iron triangle’. Every time you make a decision in the course of the project, you’ll have to consider its effect on each of these three aspects.
Most projects have a specific life cycle: a starting and finishing point between which its objectives need to be fulfilled. Reducing the project’s timeframe means you’ll have to increase the budget to allocate more resources, or reduce the scope so everything can be done in time.
Whether it’s your own money, your company’s or your customer’s: every project has a finite budget to work with. Reducing the cost of the project will force you to reduce its scope, or increase the allotted time: you'll have to look for cheaper suppliers or solutions, or (more likely) spend more time doing it yourself.
The project’s scope consists of the specific business objectives you work toward. These goals should be clearly defined, measurable and achievable. Often, however, these are not outlined from A to Z or understood from the start. Increasing the scope of a project means you will have to increase cost and/or time as well.
Balancing the triangle
From this perspective, project management is the art of balancing these triple constraints to satisfy the project’s stakeholders. At the same time, it’s important to inform the latter about the limitations of the project, and the effects they have on each other. This will allow you to manage expectations and prevent misunderstandings and failure.