Small Business Owners Have A Project Management Problem

Lately, every time I run into a small business owner I’ve been asking about what project management tools they use. At first, I was asking out of my own curiosity, hoping to see what tools are popular. But I kept asking because I started to see a pattern: Many small business owners don’t use project management tools. Rather, in a surprising number of offices, there’s a strange configuration of spreadsheets, Post-It notes and other methods to keep the team moving along.

It is certainly possible to use this sort of system — one of those informal discussions I had was with a website designer who manages about 30 contractors with a few shared Google spreadsheets. But it is a lot harder. You can’t share Post-It notes with someone who doesn’t come into the office on a regular basis and such systems can mean that a business can’t easily expand to work with contractors and employees who work remotely. That means that the boss is tied to that same physical location. These systems can require more time to maintain (when time is money) and can be lost in a matter of seconds.

Organic Growth and Project Management

There’s a very simple reason that a smaller business winds up with a less formal approach to project management. More often than not, a system grows organically: the boss needs to notify an employee of a change to a project and that pad of sticky notes is convenient. Pretty soon, it’s standard practice to write a note, stick it to someone’s monitor and consider the matter done. In much the same way, a set of spreadsheets can evolve and grow, adding on extra pages to handle new facets of projects. After even a few weeks of this sort of organic growth, it seems impossible to get away from these spreadsheets. Not only is this the way you’ve always done things, but it’s also a system that you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into setting up. Making a change not only will take time, training and money, but you’re throwing away the effort that’s gone into maintaining those spreadsheets.

Bringing Small Business Project Management Online

On the surface, it seems like the best method is to compromise — stick with the existing situation, but maybe share some of those documents through a tool like Google Docs. But for small business owners, finding robust project management tools (especially web-based applications) can scratch itches you didn’t even know you had. Simply by being more organized, you can expect to be more efficient and save your employees’ time — but it goes beyond making it easy for your staff to know what to work on next. Someone has to check over your system regularly, to both make sure that everyone’s doing their job and to make sure nothing’s slipped through the cracks. The more you can automate that progress, the more time and money you can save — and you can be sure that you’re not disappointing a client because your spreadsheet didn’t remind you of a due date.

What project management tools do you use?

Image by Flickr user avlxyz, licensed under CC 2.0

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