Lessons I Learned as a Project Manager for a Small Business

Lessons I Learned as a Project Manager for a Small BusinessImagine a scene where an overworked programmer is trying to code (without being interrupted) when his extremely impatient boss walks over to his desk to ask him a question. Coding requires intense focus and concentration, which his boss knows, but he really needs an answer. How much time do you think the programmer has to get back to his boss? An hour? Maybe two? In our office, you’d be considered quite the optimist! He needs that answer NOW!

And let’s not forget the marketing manager! He’s busy messaging the junior programmer demanding that he finish a task that is way past due – which in our business can be as little as an hour.

And where am I? I’m the project manager who is tasked with keeping track of all this craziness and making sure projects move forward without interruption.

What can I say? Welcome to the glorious world of small business and project management!

I must be honest and admit that I enjoy working for such a small marketing and technologies company. I am only a few footsteps away from my boss’s office and am welcome to knock on his door at any time. This means I have a significant influence on the decisions he makes daily and the luxury of getting my ideas approved almost instantaneously. So while I may be a bit spoiled this way, being a project manager for a small business is no easy job.

However, I’ve learned a few ways to make it a bit easier on myself, so I’d like to share what my experience has taught me, not just what I’ve learned in books or from my MBA degree. I now know that true success lies in my ability to apply these strategies to every project I manage.While some may apply to project management at any level, I’ve tried to highlight the ones that are especially important in a small business environment.

1. There is a thin line between people seeking your guidance and people expecting you to get their work done. Draw that line carefully – and make it thick!

Okay, so this can be quite tricky, but you just need to constantly remind yourself and your team members that you are there to make sure the project progresses on schedule. You are not there to do their job! While you can do this once to be nice, you need to be careful that you’re not setting a precedent where they will rely on you in the future. In a small business environment, every team member needs to know what she or he is responsible for and to get the work done on time. You have dozens of projects to oversee; you can’t keep track of the individual tasks each requires.

However, this may be easier said than done. The trick is to be a good observer. Pay attention to how each team member reacts to different communication styles and customize your approach accordingly.

2. Learn When to Say No

This is another tricky item, yet one of the most important ones. Your success in managing a project effectively depends on your ability to say no. This can apply to any stakeholder including clients, your team members, your boss – even yourself.

Everyone needs to be aware of the resources allocated to the project and make sure that they are staying within those limits. As the project manager, it is your job to know these details better than anyone else and double check that everyone is staying within bounds.

Encourage your team to resist the temptation to go outside the scope of the project. Someone may think it’s an excellent idea, but if its execution goes outside the scope of the project or uses too many of its resources, is it really that great of an idea?

3. Understand Your Role

As a project manager for a small business, you may be required to oversee as many as 40 projects of different sizes and remember the resources, limitations, and details of each.

Each project is unique, which means it can be difficult for you to keep track of every single little detail. But the good news is you don’t have to. Yes, you need to know as much as possible, but your main job is to be aware of the big picture and make sure the team is progressing toward that goal.

A successful project manager helps his or her team understand this larger goal and their role in meeting it – without dictating how they’re supposed to do that.

4. Share Responsibility

Remind yourself and others that this is ultimately a team effort, not just a collection of individual tasks. These tasks are usually intertwined, so you should not be the only one who feels responsible for the progress made on each task. Each member of the team should have a vested interest in the headway another member makes to ensure that all the requirements of the project are being fulfilled on time.

5. Be Flexible in Your Approach

Don’t lose your innovative, “change the world” spirit just because your bosses constantly turn you down. You are there because they expect you to improve the general flow of business and make people’s lives easier so they can focus on their job and be better at what they do.

If you have any ideas on how to help make that happen, make sure you share it with management. While they may reject the idea at first, you may be able to change their mind by knowing your facts and being assertive. Bosses have a tendency to believe that they’re right, that their way is the best way. So make sure you can propose your idea without stepping on anyone’s toes.

Even if they turn you down, you can still find small ways to make your plan work by implementing it on a personal or team level. Find little ways to work around processes or restrictions that are set in stone. Strive to make everyone happy! 🙂

6. Help Others Find Common Ground

It’s also important for you to realize that bosses, managers, and the rest of your team see the world from a different perspective. A boss’s decisions almost always involve monetary constraints, while a marketing manager may disregard them in the hopes of doing something really spectacular for a client. Many times egos and personalities will clash – it’s inevitable, but your job as the project manager is to help them find common ground that will deliver results while staying within the budget and ultimately move the project forward. Good luck with that!

7. Know Your Team

Not everyone was born with the desire to change the world, nor is everyone born to be an entrepreneur. And that’s okay. There are task people and there are idea people. Learn which kind of person each of your team members is and utilize their abilities in the best way possible. No matter who they are, everyone has something to contribute that will help make the project successful.

8. Sorry, Clark Kent!

As a project manager, you’re expected to be a super hero. I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re not. Project managers have many amazing characteristics – like the ability to handle 101 issues simultaneously or the uncanny ability that allows them to see an issue long before it becomes a problem.There will always be pressure to get more done, faster, but relax. You are a human being who is trying her best, but don’t let the stress get to you. If you don’t find a way to relax and maintain your positive attitude, you may find that you become part of the problem and not the solution. While you understand others’ limitations, make sure you understand your own, and that others understand them, too.

9. Spruce Up Your Wardrobe

You’ll also have to be comfortable wearing many hats. I mean MANY. In a small business, one person being absent can affect the progress of an entire project. You may find yourself acting not only as project manager, but also as an intern, marketer, or even a copywriter! You have to be okay with that, otherwise you’ll never be happy (or successful) in your role! The key is to set realistic expectations for yourself and for others.

10. Create Your Own System

Small businesses tend to be less structured. This often means less documentation, less formality. However, you have to create processes that allow you to stay on top of each project and the work being done. Document everything so you have a point of reference when someone asks how things are progressing or what still needs to be done. People have a tendency to say they’ll do something and not follow through. They may even claim they never made the commitment. This applies to both clients and team members. You need to have a system in place that allows you to keep track of these commitments and their fulfillment so that the blame doesn’t fall back on you if something isn’t completed.

11. Follow Up Religiously!

Sometimes it may feel like you’re beating a dead horse, but follow up is the key to moving the project forward. Be assertive yet professional. Make sure that person is aware of the consequences of their inaction. Establish your authority early. When people respect you, they will be more likely to respond to you quickly and deliver on their promises.

While this list could go on forever, these eleven strategies highlight the most common obstacles you will face and how to overcome them. Working for a small business is a unique experience, so arm yourself with knowledge, get to know your team well, have realistic expectations, and as my bosses are fond of saying, never over promise something to a client. Chances are you will under deliver. Instead, under promise and over deliver and you’ll always be ahead of the game!