How well are initiatives project managed from start through to completion in your business?
Most small businesses are very poor in this regard with confusion around who’s involved, who does what, no deadlines, no project lead to keep them on track, and no project sponsors (usually owners) from above to ensure it remains a high priority for the business. As a result, progress on new initiatives can be painfully slow, or non-existent.
In contrast, bigger corporates are usually very disciplined in this regard. When they take on a new strategic endeavour they will have a very clearly defined list of responsibilities, deadlines, an allocated Project Manager to keep everyone on track, and usually also several project sponsors from the senior executive team who will ensure it gets the resources and priority it deserves.
Nothing happens to great ideas without great project management to drive them forward. To achieve this discipline, you need to be clear about the two key roles in any project, which can be played by the same person or different people.
Other terms: project supporter/champion/owner
The project sponsor “pays” for the project and is ultimately accountable for its success or failure.
As such, they usually have a big say in important decisions, but unless they’re also the project lead, they won’t get too involved in the day-to-day detail.
In smaller businesses, the owner must be the project sponsor since it’s their money on the line. In larger organisations, the sponsor could be the CEO, or it could be a department head if their budget and area of responsibility is large enough. Without buy-in and support from the very top of the organisational chart, even the smallest of strategic initiatives are likely to fail.
Other terms: project manager
The project lead runs the project day-to-day on behalf of the project sponsor and is responsible for making sure the detail gets completed. They manage the project team, the all-important project plan (list of tasks, dates, responsibilities, start dates, and deadlines), team meetings, risk register, resourcing, priorities, and report progress and concerns to the project sponsor and any other key stakeholders.
They might not be the ones creating the detailed plans, budgets, or other deliverables, but they will be the ones cracking the whip if they’re not done!
For smaller businesses, this can either be the owner/ sponsor, or someone with the necessary experience and skills to perform the task. As a planner, organiser and controller they must be able to operate in a Detailed, Logical, Structured way, but it helps if they are also comfortable operating when the project requires Big Picture, Instinctive and Flexible thinking too.
Around those two key roles, you’ll build your project team.
Timing and duration are crucial project management decisions to make in any project, and also sit on the Strategic Sketch. Timing decisions can be approached from the start, the end, or ideally both.
Often there are logical times within your business cycle when a project can start, or when it needs to finish e.g. you might not be able to start in December before the Christmas rush and long holidays, but need it delivered by August next year in order to capitalise on next summer’s sales.
As a leader, you also need to walk the tricky tightrope between realism and urgency. To illustrate, let’s use a classic modern-day example where a business owner who thinks that a complex website or software build should take three months when the reality of such projects is that 9-12 months is an excellent delivery time. Putting unrealistic expectations on your team causes stress, mistakes, lets down partners and customers, and can cause you to miss critical sales windows you planned for. That said, as a leader you can’t have your team operating on cruise-mode either so need to simultaneously maintain healthy pressure on the team and the project to ensure it doesn’t slip. The two quotes below explain this conflict well, and only you can decide the right balance for your team.