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How to make project management more 'SME-friendly'

Greater use of project management would be beneficial for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). For formal project management methodologies to be effective, however, they should be adapted according to the size and nature of the organisation, as well as the sector it operates in. All projects benefit from these elements, but they are even more essential for smaller organisations.

Set achievable objectives in line with strategy
SMART objectives are one of the best-known rules of project management. These are objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. SMART objectives are even more important when it comes to SMEs, because a project failure would have a significant impact on a smaller organisation. Underestimating risks and costs, as well as allocating resources incorrectly, could compromise not only the success of the project but also the financial well-being of the whole organisation. This means that the project objectives need to be realistic and achievable with the resources – which may be limited, at times – of the organisation.

Use a leaner approach and adapted tools
In order to make project management methodologies more suitable for SMEs, it is important to find simplified solutions that are not more onerous than business-asusual activities. Using ‘agile’ project management processes will reduce cost and time within the budget and planning requirements of an SME. When it comes to relatively bigger projects, a good idea is to carry them out by manageable phases that will not disrupt the routine activities of the organisation.

Focus on key areas
In many cases, there is no need to use a variety of methodologies. Focusing on key areas of the project – such as planning, monitoring, risk management/ mitigation and communication – will reduce the amount of time and workload involved. Within SMEs, the planning, decision-making and communication processes are usually quicker and involve fewer stakeholders. It is one of the strengths of SMEs that decisions are made and implemented more easily, while reporting and communicating involve a smaller group of individuals who are directly involved in running the project.

Manage expectations
Projects are not only about processes; they are mainly about people. This is even more the case within SMEs. In general, the fewer the stakeholders, the greater their involvement in the project. As a consequence, ongoing engagement and communication are key for the success of the project. Directly related to engagement is the necessity to manage expectations. At times, it can become difficult to separate project tasks from business-as-usual ones within SMEs. This means that it is essential to clearly define from the start of the project what to expect, not only in terms of outputs and benefits, but also in terms of resources allocation and the expected impact on business-as-usual activities.


Project management could be significant boost to SMEs that are backbone of the UK economy


This article first appeared in the 2015 Autumn edition of Project Journal.

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  1. Steve Marsh
    Steve Marsh 05 February 2016, 01:57 PM

    Delighted to see this post, exactly my experience as a PM guiding a small engineering company through rapid expansion. Now though, working in government I am faced with exactly the opposite which is an entirely new challenge, having to adhere to process after process after.................

  2. Rob Kidd
    Rob Kidd 29 January 2016, 10:02 AM

    Great post Valentina - and also good advice for large businesses. When housing association Affinity Sutton asked me to setup their first PMO, they wanted to use PRINCE2, as so many staff had practitioner qualifications already. However, they were worried it would be too burdensome, so we needed to tailor it to fit the project environment.Rather than starting with the 'big book' and seeing what I could cut, I started with just the themes and principles, and built the method around those. The result was a familiar, robust, easy-to-follow method that didn't require external training to be used effectively. @Rubikon_UK | LinkedIn