There’s no getting around it—project management is a core competency for any successful solo consultant. In addition to your specialized expertise, the success of client engagements and your business requires effective results and milestone management. If this isn’t a strong skill set of yours, don’t worry. There are many ways to enhance project management capabilities through education, training, and practice.
When you’re able to skillfully and efficiently execute projects, you will not only have satisfied clients who understand your value, but you’ll also gain a competitive advantage within your market. Small business project management can be grouped into five processes: initiating, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Follow these six tips to successfully run your next project from beginning to end.
1. Establish a Firm Foundation
Initiate your project with a clear understanding of what is expected. To avoid scope creep, financial issues, or miscommunication, make sure you have a written contract with a well-defined scope of work. Properly drafted contracts protect both you and your client by clearly outlining terms and conditions. Your contract should include specific details of your project such as project scope, payment schedules, deliverables and due dates, cancellation policies, and guidelines regarding patents.
2. Write a Project Plan
A project blueprint will help you map out how you will achieve the goals of the project. Your plan should include resources, milestones, and deliverables. Include these plans as a supplement to your written contract to help get approval and make modifications before you start the project.
When creating a project plan, be as comprehensive as possible, taking care to outline a plan for the entire project. Begin with an outline, breaking down the project into categories such as “Account Administration” and “Market Research.” Once you’ve refined your outline, further break down the project into phases such as planning, research, design, development, testing, and deployment. Clearly state the goals for each phase including milestones and completion dates.
3. Start with a Project Kickoff Meeting
A project kickoff meeting gives you the opportunity to get buy-in from stakeholders and project sponsors and helps you start off on the right foot. You’ll be able to discover how the project will impact each stakeholder or department, and determine what each person needs in order to consider the project a success.
A kickoff meeting is your opportunity to establish roles, responsibility, and workflow. Use this meeting to clearly communicate the scope and verify that the project plan tracks with objectives. You can also establish KPIs and reporting preferences. Be sure to schedule a follow-up meeting to ensure everyone remains on track with project development tasks.
4. Set Up a System for Tracking
Clients may have their own project management tools, but it is important to ensure you have a coordinated system on your end as well. Make sure that everyone has access to the same information, and that your work and the goals of the organization remain aligned. There are a number of project collaboration tools that you may find helpful such as Google Drive, Basecamp, Monday, or Asana. Many of these systems are free to use or offer a free trial; test a few to find the best fit.
5. Communicate with Your Client
Establish a communication plan at the onset of your project and stick with it. For example, your client may opt for a monthly written report and weekly updates via phone or email. Even with a plan in place, be sure to immediately communicate any challenges or roadblocks. Always be open and honest throughout the project even when you have difficult news to share.
In addition to consistent communication, be sure to document everything as you go along. Even the most well-managed projects will experience the occasional hiccup. In the event of a delay or budget overrun, documentation will help you validate what has been done and cover you in terms of deliverables and expectations.
6. End the Project Professionally
The way you close your project can open the door to future contracts and referrals. Don’t let your quality and attention to detail slip in the last few days. Schedule a pre-close meeting to validate that expectations have been met and address any pending issues. If there are tasks that need to be modified or completed, establish a clear plan and date of completion. This is also a great time to talk about any recommendations for future projects or items that were tabled because they were not part of the original scope.
At the completion of the project, provide your client with a final report that summarizes the goals and what was done. Include recommendations that will ensure your client continues to gain the most from the services you’ve provided.