Let’s face it—as a small business owner or manager, you are essentially a project manager. Rarely do you get to focus on your specialty. You direct the work of others, make the big decisions, probably handle the bid and proposal quoting process, and complete lots of other day-to-day tasks just to keep things running. So a few, basic project management concepts can help you with critical business decisions and proposals.
Project management works on a delicate balance of what I call the Trifecta of Project Management:
- Quality: The level of excellence of the product—whether it meets or exceeds expectations/specifications
- Cost: The amount of money that it takes to produce said product (both how much the materials to create the product cost as well as the money it takes to fuel the production)
- Schedule: The time necessary to create the product added with the amount of time it will take to deliver it
Let’s look at a fantasy scenario. Say you own a marketing and graphic design company that just picked up a client who needs promotional booklets for an upcoming trade show. If you look at the project through the triple constraints model, you would need to collaborate with your client on a plan that clearly lays out the expected quality, compared with the time you expect to spend on it, their expectation for a completion date, and the cost, including extra expenses and other such cost elements. Often, planning a project is not a hard science. Stuff happens and schedules or costs have to change a bit. Simply build in some lag on the schedule and some flexibility on the costs. Then manage as you go. Read on to see more details on considerations that you need to make for each aspect of the triple constraints model for projects.
From the outset, talk with your clients about needs versus cost and time. Write down exactly what it is they want and what they are and are not willing to compromise on with respect to quality. Note that on both your end and the client’s end, it is easy to get carried away with wanting to improve products and make changes. This, while it could potentially make a better product, could also quickly spin out of contro. You could find yourself out of time and money with an unfinished product. It would be more expedient to create a product that will work and to also get it done within time and financial budgets than for the previous scenario to happen. It may be expedient to set aside a “cushion budget” in case of this occurrence.
When talking about cost, be careful about fixed rates. Often (due to the quality spiral discussed earlier) fixed costs can actually backfire on the producer, costing them more than they were intending. Instead, have them give you a minimum and a maximum that they are willing to pay. Then, go for the minimum. More than likely, even if you aim for the minimum, you will end up in a number closer to the maximum. (This goes back to the idea of a cushion budget).
Scheduling can be frustrating and tedious. However, it can really pay off for you in the long run. Set dates for each level of production on when you expect to have certain aspects of the project done. Understand that production deadlines can not and will not always be met, so again with the cushion budget idea, make sure your deadlines are at least a few days beyond when you really need to have the deadline met.
For more information…
If you implement these ideas, knowing that the trifecta works as a system of checks and balances, then you will be able to product workable material efficiently and within budget. For more information on project management basics, here are some great resources:
- PMI.org – Headquarters for all things project management.
- Wiki on Project Management – An excellent introductory article on project management concepts and approaches.
- Project Management Triangle – A more thorough discussion on the triple constraints model as discussed here.