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 solo business requires effective results and milestone-management. If this isn't a strong skill set, there are ways to enhance your capabilities through education and training.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project management as "a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals." Solo business owners who are able to skillfully and efficiently execute projects will not only have satisfied clients who understand their value, but a competitive advantage in their markets.
Small business project management can be grouped into five processes:
- Monitoring and Controlling
There are strategies and tools that can help you expertly navigate each process and run a successful project from beginning to end.
- 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 outline the specific details of the project including: project scope, payment schedules, deliverables and due dates, cancellation policies and guidelines regarding patents.
- 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. You can include your plans as a supplement to your written contract. This will enable you to get approval and make modifications if needed in advance of project initiation. Be as comprehensive as possible, taking care to outline a plan for the entire project from launch to deployment and closing. Begin with an outline, breaking the project down into categories such as "Account Administration" and "Market Research." Once you have refined the outline, break the project down into phases, such as planning, research, design, development, testing, and deployment. Clearly state the goals for each phase, including milestones and completion dates.
- Kick off the project with a launch meeting. Get your project off to a good start with a project kickoff meeting. This meeting gives you an opportunity to get buy-in from stakeholders and project sponsors. You will be able to discover how the project will impact each stakeholder and/or department and determine what each needs to declare the project a success. The kick-off meeting is your opportunity to establish roles, responsibility and workflow. Use this meeting to clearly communicate scope and verify that the project plan tracks with the objectives. You can also establish KPIs and reporting preferences. Be sure to set a follow-up meeting to ensure that everyone remains on track with project development tasks.
- Set up a system for tracking. Clients may have their own project management tools, but it is important to ensure that you have a coordinated system and are not tracking details separately. Good communication is essential to the success of your project. You will want to ensure that everyone has access to the same information and that your work and the organization's goals remain aligned. There are a number of systems for project collaboration and communication, such as Google Drive, Base Camp, Deskaway and Huddle. Many project management systems offer a free trial. Test one or two systems to find the best fit for you.
- Communicate with your client. Establish a communication plan at the onset of the project and stick with it. Your client may opt for a monthly written report and weekly updates via phone or email. Communicate any challenges or roadblocks immediately. Always be open and honest throughout the project even when you have difficult news to share. In addition to consistent communication with the client, be sure to document as you go. Even projects that are well-managed can experience a hiccup. In the event of delay or budget overrun, documentation will help you to validate what has been done and cover you in terms of deliverables and expectations.
Commit in writing. So that you and your client are always on the same page, put due dates and project milestones in writing. Project milestones benefit you and your client with measurable objectives that help you monitor the progress of the project.
- Close like a pro. 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 when finalizing a project. Schedule a pre-close meeting to review a project punch list. This is a good opportunity 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 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 that your client continues to gain the most from what you have provided.
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