OPERATIONS MANAGEMENT FOR THE ENTREPRENEUR

You really can’t imagine it! Can you? Time runs so fast, and before I could say Jack Robinson I realized that I was late with my blog post for last week. Anyway, let me give it a go this morning, as I’m committed to ensuring that we have at least a blog per week.

So, today let’s take a quick look at projects. I know some people will wonder why we are bringing projects into this entrepreneurship thing. Don’t worry. I will keep it relevant and not too wide and complex. The reality is that entrepreneurs are oftentimes engaged in one project or the other, even without knowing that what they are involved in constitutes a project. For the big guys leading and controlling big companies this might not be new, but for small players in entrepreneurship this might not be the case.

A project is not routine. It is an activity that has a defined start and finish, also with defined scope and resources. A project is normally designed to accomplish a specific goal and clearly defined objectives. I’m not going into all the technicalities involved in the definition. I leave that to you in case you are interested in learning more about projects. The good thing is that in today’s world we have an information explosion through the internet, so you can get the missing link or close the gaps if you like.

Examples of projects include introduction and launch of new products into the market, installation and test running of newly acquired machinery, computerization of your enterprise operations, establishing a new branch in a new location or country. I guess you can name some more. Can’t you? But don’t tell me that your travel from home to office is also a project. Ok? It might quality for scope, definite start and finish, objective and goal (work) but it is disqualified because it’s routine. Do you agree with me?

Anyway, what are the top tips for project management for an entrepreneur? Why talk about project management? What are some of the safeguards to consider in managing projects? What are some of the best ways of managing projects? Project management poorly handled can be disaster, and can be so draining on human and other resources, leave aside total failure that makes your competitors laugh heartily, and the market terribly annoyed because of your inability to deliver. This is why you should not ignore good project management principles, such as those indicated below.

  • The viability of the project. This one candidly is such an embarrassingly basic and straight forward consideration but you would be surprised at the percentage of entrepreneurs who give no damn to this before kick starting a project. Have you looked at the commercial, technical, environmental and other viabilities of your project? Does the project make sense in terms of critical assessment parameters? If you have not done this Mr. Entrepreneur, I strongly advise you to get back and consider this. Don’t come back later complaining about some wrong advice given to you by some consultant because you yourself did not bother to understand more about this viability issue. Better get it sorted early.
  • Planning. It is commonly said that failure to plan is planning to fail. So, for successful projects you need to plan well in advance, and include all relevant issues such as work schedules, assignment of resources, planning horizon, high level activities, critical path, organization, assumptions and risks etc. Mr. Entrepreneur, you will probably realize that you save yourself a lot of stress, losses and project failures and extensions through proper and adequate planning right from the start. Don’t you agree with me? In planning, you also need to document procedures, guidelines etc. I mean proper planning here. Not just some disorganized writings on some dirty paper – something not reviewed and refined. Ok?
  • People buy-in, the right team and constant communications with feedback. One of the major setbacks in project implementation and management is the aspect of human capital. You need people buy-in if you desire success in your project, whatever that project is. Additionally, you need the right team to steer and manage execution of the project to completion. If you are a sole entrepreneur and you do literally everything in your enterprise, that’s up to you. You know I have always advised you not to be a loner in business, but it’s your decision anyway. Ok? Communication is another pivotal thing in successful project management. This should be regular and should focus on key areas and action points.   
  • Project costs and budgetary control including cash flow planning. Ideally, at the time you do the planning for your project, you also handle the financial aspects of the projects including the budget, financing method, cash flow element etc. Beyond planning however, the implementation or project execution matters a great deal. You have got to monitor your planned costs in your budget with the actuals in execution, with the aim of ensuring that you control project costs and proactively address areas where there are warning signs of cost overruns. You know that viability calculations depend on the project budget, so I guess you have an idea of what could happen to your viability calculations if costs doubled for example. Do I need to elaborate on this? I don’t think so. Don’t ignore project budget control, as occasionally wonderfully terrible things happen with projects, and these have the capacity to disorganize the entire enterprise if not properly handled. This will ensure you adopt best practices in project management.   
  • Focus on project goals and objectives. Entrepreneur, please do not lose track of your project goals and objectives along the way. Keep focused on this, and you are destined for a successful project. If you start working on an IT project to improve overall controls in your organization (about people, materials, machinery, etc.), and end up with only an inventory control program implemented then you certainly lost focus on your overall goals and objectives. If you started on a project to construct an administrative block in your school and ended up with a science laboratory, then certainly I will differ with you in this aspect. Do you understand me?
  • Monitoring project progress and trouble-shooting challenges. This relates to flow of work schedules, and resolving issues as quickly as possible. Try and avoid project creep, which are small and minor changes made into the project without plans and procedures, as these can slow down progress and distract from focus. Identify warning signs that may indicate trouble and deal with them in a timely and appropriate manner. You should have a trouble-shooting approach that ensures that the project is always on tract despite challenges that are common in such projects.
  • Project critical paths. Now, the technical definition of project critical path could be made very complicated if we wished to, but in its simplest way, the critical path defines the core or fundamental steps/activities along the project that are vital determinants or cornerstones to project success. This of course varies depending on many things. Have you ever seen road contractors prioritizing construction of bridges and culverts along the road, sometimes behaving as if they were only contracted to do those? Or have you seen a tailoring company first focusing on simply cutting clothes to pieces, as if they don’t know they have got to proceed and sew those damn things for people to put on early enough? This is another important tip on project management.
  • Project risk management. Incorporate risk management right from the planning stage. You need to monitor and adjust your project risk scope and other parameters during project implementation. There might be new risks you never expected but have to be handled. At the planning stage you have to identify all known risks and their probability of occurrence, and then consider mitigating factors you can build into your plan to avoid challenges when the risks materialize. I believe you can enumerate some of the risk facing your project. Can’t you?

Good! Now I intend to conclude swiftly here. You might have noted that I left out the point of project review and evaluation in my top tips on project management. It is intentional. In my opinion, a review is simply a post-mortem, and I don’t see how it positively affects implementation of the current project. It will certainly help you in the future if you are wise and take advantage of the learning points.  Additionally, there are very advanced project management methodologies and tools such as PRINCE2, PRiSM, Agile Project Management, Waterfall Project Management, Critical Path/Chain Analysis (CPA), SCRUM, PERT, Kanban, XP (Extreme Programing) etc. The big players know and use some of the approaches. I’m not going into these, but if you have a curious mind, you could proceed and get some ideas from those principles.

Thanks and bye for now.

Till then,

The Wise Entrepreneur

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