7 Key Elements of Successful Projects in Small Businesses

successful projects

Successful projects are as much about planning and structure as they are about delivery. Larger organisations will look to Prince 2 as the basis for the project.

However it is far too unwieldy for smaller businesses. Yet if you strip Prince 2 back to the basics there is a framework that would be flexible enough for a simple project. My Mentored Graduate Programme incorporates all the elements despite there often only being myself and my graduate running the project.

To explain further I thought it may be worth walking through the 7 key elements. Why they’re important & how I’d include them in a light flexible project for a small business. On the diagram we start at 12 o’clock and go clockwise.

Prince 2 Themes

1. Business Case

The return on investment for successful projects has to be compelling.

During my days at Orange, I lost count of the number of projects presented for approval where the business case delivered little or no benefit. Sadly some survived through to product launch only to be a dismal financial failure.

It’s the same process to follow for small businesses. I meet with the owner and key staff to construct a business case for delivering a project with a graduate. I like to see a nailed on opportunity to generate benefits for my client from the first month and overall a payback of under 12 months. The return on investment for successful projects has to be compelling.

2. Organisation

The project needs to have a champion

The project needs to have a champion. For a small business this will be the owner. Someone who owns the budget. It needs to have their backing for the staff to realise it has to be a high priority for them.

Many small businesses struggle to extract themselves from the day to day operations. It’s unlikely a project will succeed if the project management is given to a member of staff who cannot set aside enough non operational time to drive it through.

It can create costly overspends if a third party is implementing a new solution to a timescale and the allocated member of staff acting as project manager cannot devote time to it.

3. Quality

make sure the expected quality is being delivered

A company will quality check a product making its way through the factory. There is the overall quality assurance in the form of ISO standards. There is also an inspector who will act as quality controller at the key steps in the process to make sure it is fit for purpose.

The same principles need to apply to a project through its life. The overall assurance needs to be established when setting the project up and knowing what to do if it goes wrong. But as important are project reports with regular updates, RAG (red-amber-green) statuses to make sure the expected quality is being delivered.

4. Plan

The project needs a common plan shared by everyone

The project needs a common plan shared by everyone. It should be at the highest level for the project champion down to the task level for staff members. It needs timelines, milestones & tasks allocated to people with deadlines.

There’s no need to spend ages constructing it and maintaining it. For a small company, it needs to be light & flexible. I use Basecamp which is simple and non techy for client staff to engage with. I find the complicated Microsoft Project type solutions to be too complicated for a small business.

5. Risk

What is the risk of failure versus the probability of success?

The business owner will have to make a judgement call when championing a project. What is the risk of failure versus the probability of success? Have the confidence to terminate a project if the risks become too high

  • Will the project deliver the returns outlined in the business case?
  • Do the project team have the skills to deliver the returns?
  • Does the project have a strong plan and are there any areas of concern?

6. Change

Change control requires a lot of discipline.

Changes will happen in every project. Change control requires a lot of discipline. It’s too easy to try and please everyone all the time.

Users will continually ask for new things to be added to the project. These should only be accepted up to a well publicised deadline, but not after.

New requests need to be split between those critical and those “nice to have”. The agreed changes can then be implemented & tested. It’s so often the case that several months down the line, “nice to have” requests are no longer required after all.

7. Progress

project manager to give regular project updates

In conjunction with the plan and quality, the progress of a project needs to be regularly monitored. I use a simple Red-Amber-Green status at the summary level in Excel to illustrate which parts of the project need attention.

It is crucial for the project manager to give regular project updates. Some owners may be happy with a regular weekly or monthly face to face update meeting. Others may prefer it as a report, perhaps if they aren’t in the office much. If there is regular conversational interaction with the owner then updating them as you go may work better. The key here is to be flexible.

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