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Home > Business Strategy Best Practice > Project Planning Techniques for Small and Medium Enterprises

Business Strategy Best Practice

Project Planning Techniques for Small and Medium Enterprises

by Damian Merciar

Case Study

Project Management in Competitive Exports

An Indian firm involved in the export market, predominantly to the United States, was a manufacturer of telecoms and switching equipment. An efficient and competitive firm, if not the largest, it used the best quality components and was the first company in its industry to regularly export such technical equipment to the West. However, times were changing: overall, component quality had improved greatly and the company now faced competition from recently acceded countries to the European Union and from the economic and technological superpower that is China. Margins at the company were relatively tight and costs were not always stable as a large part of the raw materials were volatile commodities, such as metals, bought on the international market. Many of the managers had been educated both at Western universities and at India’s top universities, with a biased representation, naturally, from engineering and technical disciplines.

After some years of stiff competition, the company lost out on a contract to supply the key US export market to a South Korean company. After much reflection—their quality assurance process was first rate, their manufacturing process efficiency standards were leading edge, and their own supplier contracts were as tightly negotiated as possible—managers began to think about applying project management to the whole product life cycle. Detailed costs were identified and allocated. Responsibility for different stages of the process were more clearly demarcated and the concept of team ownership of specific projects was used for the first time. Reward and incentive schemes were initiated and internal team competitions established. Benchmarks for delivery were created that were more closely related to cost and schedule, as opposed to previously when the emphasis had been toward quality and reliability. Within a year the firm had won back that export contract and improved efficiency enough to bid for another, without increasing the headcount.

Capacity Management

For the SME, project management need not be too complicated. There do not need to be large numbers of variables in the spreadsheets and project management software. As often as not, managing the process of project management can itself become a challenging job. Therefore, as a director one needs to be aware of the capacity of the individual who is doing the project management. Too many projects and too much complexity can easily overwhelm the project management, leading to suboptimal performance and projects that come in under par. As a rule of thumb, two or three small projects are all that one person should manage. Don’t overlook the ancillaries that go with projects—attending meetings, preventing bottlenecks, and defending one’s turf from rival managers who are aware of the fixed resources available at company level. These can easily detract from the successful completion of a project.

Project Review and Change

It may be thought this section is self-evident. It isn’t–in fact project review and project change are vital components of both successful and unsuccessful projects. If a project is going wrong, there has to be a clearly defined set of criteria that set out exactly what must be done and whose responsibility it is to do it. Typically it will be a director who decides whether to abort a current project or significantly change the path the project is on. However, detailed reporting rules need to be agreed on by all team members to ensure that management is aware of the precise status of a project.

Conclusion

Management and Leadership

These two are inextricably linked: just as manufacturing control is only a small part of project management, project management is itself only a small part of running a company. Leadership is key here: not every manager is a leader, nor is every leader a successful manager—quite often the two attributes are very separate. Leadership is for another chapter, but it is essential if a project manager is to “buy in” the team doing the work he or she requires of them to his or her vision of why they are doing it. The subtle difference between management and leadership alone can shift the bottom line either way by tens of thousands.

Making It Happen

  • Project management can be a huge specialism, so understand your project and your contribution to it.

  • Distinguish between the various theories of project management and discover which best fits your situation.

  • Do not lose sight of the importance of process control.

  • Review your project path and be prepared to change it if not doing so could jeopardize successful implementation.

  • Motivate and involve team members—they are your facilitators.

 

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Further reading

Books:

  • Kendall, Gerald I., and Steven C. Rollins. Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO: Multiplying ROI at Warp Speed. Boca Raton, FL: Ross Publishing, 2003.
  • Kerzner, Harold. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. 8th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003.
  • Lewis, James P. Project Planning, Scheduling, & Control: A Hands-on Guide to Bringing Projects in On Time and On Budget. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.
  • Project Management Institute (PMI). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). 3rd ed. Newtown Square, PA: PMI, 2004. Available from: www.pmi.org

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