How to create a project management plan for your small business

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What comes to mind when you think about project management? Do you envision a big company with a dedicated project manager for every venture? Or large-scale projects with major budgets?

The reality is, as a small business owner, you’re in the thick of project management every day. You hire and train people, interact with customers, manage invoices, oversee product development, check inventory, develop marketing ideas—and the list goes on.

If you are reading this, you probably asked Google, “What is project management?” So, we should answer that question first.

The best project management definition is this: Project management is the application of skills, tools, knowledge and techniques to accomplish a specific goal. It is an organized process to initiate, plan, execute, monitor, and close the work of a team to accomplish defined goals and meet specific criteria by a defined deadline.

Unlike an ongoing operation, a project is temporary. Each project has a defined beginning and end, along with a unique scope and outcome.

Every project is unique and requires a specific set of actions, or project requirements, to accomplish the specified goal. Your project team might include team members and vendors who typically don’t work together.

Now that we have the definition out of the way, let’s dive into what every business owner needs to know to develop their own project management methodology.

Small business owner = project manager

As a business owner, it’s up to you to think like a project management professional (PMP)to bring change and add value.

This isn’t always an easy task. Statistics show that most projects aren’t completed as well as they could be, costing small businesses time and money.

A PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) study of nearly 11,000 projects found that only 2.5 percent of companies complete their projects 100 percent successfully. The others don’t meet their original targets, or miss the original deadlines or budget.

Juggling multiple tasks and deliverables is just part of running a small business. However, even if you consider yourself hyper-organized, things can still fall through the cracks. Orders can arrive late. Products can come in over budget. Customers might receive the wrong item.

That’s why project management is so important. When you take the time to develop a solid project management plan for your various undertakings, you can avoid spinning your wheels and get ahead of potential problems. When you refine your project management skills, you set your business up for growth.

Companies that use proven project management practices waste 28 times less money than their counterparts, according to CIO. For reference, you may want to look into the Project Management Institute (PMI), which published “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” more than 30 years ago that still holds weight today. You can also seek out project management professionals.

As you consider those resources and tools available, here’s a breakdown of what a successful project management plan entails.

A good project management plan clarifies the:

  • Why? The project’s goals.
  • What? The deliverables.
  • When? The due dates or deadlines.
  • How? The process or methodology.
  • Who? The team members who will get it done.

Through effective project management, you can:

  • Increase visibility and control over your projects
  • Improve business efficiency and productivity
  • Ensure long-term project success
  • Maximize resources
  • Prioritize projects
  • Reach objectives faster
  • Promote smooth team communication
  • Measure resource efficiency
  • Gain a clear overview of deliverables

Managing projects in a small business is often more challenging than doing so in a larger company. You have fewer resources and less margin for error. That’s why it’s critical to give proper focus to the discipline of project management.

If you’re tired of haphazardly tackling your to-do list, read on to learn how to successfully integrate project management into your business.

1. Identify your project

The first step in a project management plan is to broadly define the project and determine if you can feasibly take it on. Want to open a new storefront by the holidays? Add two new sales reps to your team? Introduce a customer loyalty program? Now’s the time to consider whether you have the resources, staff and budget to move forward with the project.

It’s helpful to consider these questions:

  • Why do you need this project?
  • What’s the desired outcome?
  • How will this affect your team?
  • How will it affect your customers?
  • What’s your budget in terms of money, time and manpower?

Be sure to meet with your team and vendors to identify priorities and set clear goals. It’s important for everyone involved, including human resources, to understand project components and where you’re headed.

2. Define roles and responsibilities

When you decide to go ahead with a project, you need a plan to guide your team in the right direction. Everyone on your team should know what to deliver and when.

Some key factors to consider when project planning include:

  • What are the deliverables?
  • What’s the timeframe for these deliverables?
  • Who’s doing what, and by what deadline?

Delegation doesn’t always come easy for small business owners. However, you can’t do everything yourself. Until you offload some of your tasks, you can’t effectively focus on growing your business.

By making clear assignments on project duties, you help create a solid foundation for your project and eliminate confusion among your team members.

As project manager, you can make sure everyone is on the same page and has a voice in the project by holding a kickoff meeting. This is a chance for your team members to weigh in with their thoughts, pose questions and make decisions. It’s also an opportunity to define expectations and commitments.

3. Develop a scope statement

A scope statement—sometimes called a scope of work—outlines project deliverables and describes the major objectives, which include measurable success criteria.

A well-crafted scope statement defines:

  • Project objective: What is the goal or intended outcome?
  • Justification: What criteria will you use to ensure the work is complete?
  • Deliverables: What will you produce or offer at the end of the project?
  • Assumptions: What assumptions have you considered about how you will complete the project? If you don’t outline them, you might run into problems down the line.
  • Limitations: What are the project constraints? Limitations come in many forms, including technology, time, budget and talent.

Keep in mind that your scope statement is flexible. Rather than a document that’s set in stone, you can adjust it when, or if, situations change.

4. Execute the project

This is the stage where you roll up your sleeves and get the job done. You have your team assembled, your resources assigned and you’re ready to create the deliverables your customers need.

The project management execution phase is often comprised of several smaller processes:

  • Project monitoring and control. As the project progresses, it’s important to monitor project tasks and ensure everything stays on track with the allotted budget and time frame. As a project manager, you must stay vigilant about time management and keeping the project moving ahead smoothly.
  • Communication. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the project. Always follow up before and after meetings to check in on overdue items, issues and risks. Risk management is particularly important.
  • Flexibility. Every project is unique. That’s why it’s important—as a business owner and project manager—to stay agile and course-correct when needed.
  • Recognition. When your team reaches an important milestone or achieves a significant accomplishment, take time to celebrate along the way. The execution phase is the most involved part of every project, so it’s great to boost morale and recognize team efforts.

In this phase, you might consider taking an agile approach to project management. This approach works best for shorter, faster projects that can be completed in sprints.

As a project management approach, agile is interactive and allows for swift adjustments. Instead of waiting until the end of the project to make modifications, you can spot issues quickly and adjust as you go. The result is immediate feedback, a speedier turnaround and less complexity.

5. Effectively close the project

The project concludes when you deliver the finished project to your customers, or reach your defined outcome. In this final step, be sure to take stock of what went right and how you could improve on the next project.

Ask yourself and your team:

  • Did you experience any significant roadblocks?
  • Did the project stay on schedule and on budget?
  • Did you miss any milestones?
  • Did you run into any other issues that you can prevent the next time?

While you might be eager to move on to other projects, don’t overlook this important project management step. Spend some time with your project team to perform a post-mortem, and discuss the project elements that were successful or unsuccessful.

Proceed with a plan

Knowing how to effectively manage projects, and handle each project phase in real-time, is crucial to your business’ growth. Without a project management plan, you run the risk of costly mistakes, confusion among your team members and missed opportunities.

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed by your to-do list. There are dozens of project management software options, such as or Wrike, to help small business owners juggle resources, deliverables, project schedules and deadlines.

When researching project management software, spend some time thinking about your business needs. Do you need to get organized as quickly as possible? Are you looking for something scalable? Do you need to loop in companies in other industries?

The best project management software allows you to easily and efficiently handle multiple business operations, from performing inventory to managing files and overseeing customer relations.

While every business has different needs, it’s always helpful to choose project management software that:

  • Offers a free version. Small businesses must keep their budgets in mind. By choosing a project management tool that offers a free version, you can test the software before buying.
  • Allows for collaboration. A successful project doesn’t just happen overnight—you need collaboration between all members of your project team, and at every point in the project life cycle.
  • Provides the option to add deadlines. You can use many features to manage your tasks effectively, but the most important is the ability to add deadlines.
  • Offers a mobile app. Since you’re not always in your office or store, it’s helpful to pick a project management tool that provides a mobile app so you can post a comment or check the status of a project anywhere.

When you examine your business goals, don’t just wish for project success. Spend some time refining your project management process.

When you invest the effort to develop a project management plan, you can divide even the most complex tasks into manageable pieces that allow you to use your time and resources wisely.

This article was produced by the QuickBooks Resource Center and syndicated by  

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