Applying a project management approach to the management of your small business or department or even your personal life will bring you control and clarity on your priorities and help you achieve your goals.

Sometimes I feel myself so busy helping my clients with their projects that I can lose sight of my own business and life projects. The projects I consult to can often be large and complex, with many resources dedicated to ensuring that all the planned tasks are successfully completed. The help I provide to my clients usually entails assessing risks associated with their projects and facilitating the development of contingency plans to prevent anything from standing in their way of achieving the project’s scope or meeting the project’s customer requirements.

When I get back to my office and my life and realize that I have similar challenges–too many priorities, not enough time and limited resources. And I must also consider the risks of not finishing my business projects and priorities on time.So how do I keep my business under control without burning out and losing face with my family? The answer is managing my business as a project!

That First Step – Identify the Projects

It’s important to get a handle on what various projects and business initiatives are being undertaken over the short term—not just the priorities. In my case, I write down everything that I have started and/or need to complete over the next 3 months. Here is what my recent list looks like:

  • Complete the client Operational Effectiveness report by September 30th
  • Finish our 2010 Report of global PMO research by October 15th
  • Develop and launch our new product by October 31st
  • Complete the client Project Audit by November 30th
  • Develop the Innovation workshop materials by November 15th

Notice that I identified when each work project needed to be completed so I could begin the process of considering what I will have to do in order to ensure these dates are successfully reached.

I also recognized that in addition to this work, I also have other work to complete that has already been arranged such as: client meetings, keynote speaking engagements and international business training requiring travel. These are on-going work-related tasks rather than projects. Although these commitments are in place, they might interfere with my ability to finish the above projects on time and with the level of quality that I require for delivery. But I had to put these concerns aside as I was getting a little ahead of myself. So I returned to basic project management and the next step.

Second Step – Scope out My Projects

Having identified my projects and the end dates (which are not negotiable), the next step is to prepare a mini-scope for each project. So I developed a Goal and Deliverables for each project. For example:

PMO Research Report
Goal To research, design, write and launch the PMO research report in order to provide the global project management community with access to comprehensive and up-to-date project management research information that provides them with direction to optimize their operational effectiveness in managing their project management offices.
Deliverables
  • Consolidate on-line questionnaire responses
  • Consolidate interview reports
  • Analyze data
  • Develop conclusions
  • Write report
  • Publish report

Third Step – Create a High-Level Plan

Now it’s time to put all of this together as a single chart. It is very, very basic but that is all you need. You can do it using a word processing or spread sheet program such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. You don’t need to use Microsoft Project unless you are very comfortable with it.

Initially I developed a high level plan. I started by transferring my Deliverables onto the chart. Then I created a list of tasks for each deliverable, determined when they needed to be completed and who would be responsible for getting the tasks done.

Here is what my first draft looked like:

Project/Initiative Deliverables Tasks Required Complete by Resources Required
PMO Research Report Consolidate
On-line
Questionnaire
Responses
  • Develop Bar charts and graphs of close-ended on-line questions
  • Consolidate all open-ended question on-line responses
July 31st RF
Consolidate interview reports
  • Combine all similar responses in order to identify trends
  • Develop Bar charts and graphs of to identify trends.
  • Record all other responses for further analysis.
August 10th MS
Analyze data
  • Analyze all similar and dissimilar responses from the on-line questionnaire.
  • Analyze all similar and dissimilar responses from the interviews.
  • Identify patterns, trends, etc.
  • Identify major concerns, issues, challenges and opportunities.
August 15th MS
Develop conclusions
  • Compare the 2005 research report findings with the 2009 research report findings
  • Develop the information from the analysis into a set of key conclusions
  • Identify the sub-points below each conclusion
  • Create the actions a PMO and/or organization should undertake to successfully implement the conclusions
September 20th MS
Write report
  • Determine format
  • Design the cover
  • Design the layout
September 30th MS or SS
Publish report
  • Determine formats for publishing i.e.; download, published paper report, etc.
  • Determine selling price for report
  • Create product information on website
October 15th MS or SS
Product Launch
Client Report
Client Project
Audit
Develop Innovation workshop materials

Once I completed the detail for my first project I was ready to begin creating the detail for the next ones. In each case, it was important to give consideration to how to best meet the overall scope deadline through my available resources, including my office staff, my colleagues or even bringing in outside expertise.

While undertaking this task may not necessarily make you feel better about the work ahead, it will definitely help you feel more in control–because you will have a clear idea of exactly what you need to do to deliver the project and the deadlines for each task.

Fourth Step – Assess the Risks

It’s a good idea to do a Risk Assessment in order to identify what might prevent you from completing each project initiative according to the schedule. In my case, this was the most enlightening part of the process because it included assessing the impact on my schedule on any possible new projects that could occur such as new client assignments or other interferences such as travel delays that could interfere with getting through the required tasks.

So I completed a quick Force-Field Analysis. Essentially, a Force-Field Analysis is a technique that looks at all of the driving forces and restraining forces for each project and initiative. Doing a force-field analysis helped me to identify what might prevent success so that I could develop tasks to reduce the likelihood that they will adversely impact my ability to get the job done. This included organizing myself for my trips so that I could make better use of my time in the airport lounges, during the evenings when out of town, etc.

Execute the Projects

Surprisingly, you will not find that using this approach is cumbersome or difficult to complete. In my case, I spent only about half-day of time to undertake these four steps.

But the benefit I received was priceless. It allowed me to be clear about how to navigate through this busy period. And this not only brought about considerable reduction in my level of stress, but has also made it possible for my business and customer relationships to thrive. That’s what good project management does.

So what does this mean for you? Perhaps you don’t have to go searching for that time management course or organizational book to help you gain control over your life. Rather, think of your business, your department and/or your life as a project and then manage it accordingly. Will things change? Absolutely! But keep in mind that a project management approach is only a framework, not a hard and fast structure for getting work done. It will help you to become clearer about your path and help you manage change better if you are flexible in applying the process.

Let me know if you need help getting started. Good luck in getting your business, department and/or life better organized. I did it and know you can too.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca