Big business, small business

Too Small for Project Management

(This is a story about small business project management.)

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a rather small business. They referred to themselves as Acme, Inc. (Follow along. Except for the name, this is a true story.) Acme provided a highly-specialized service to their customers. They were good at what they did. In fact, their work made some customers wealthy.

Acme Was a Service Provider

Acme delivered the kind of service that was temporary in nature. For customer #1 they performed X for 6 months and for customer #2, they provided Y service until a specific result was achieved.

They Used a Common Sense Approach

Acme didn’t use terms like “lessons learned” and “risk analysis.” They just managed the delivery of their services as they saw fit. For those involved, it sounded like project management.

When they received a new project, they assigned it to someone they titled “project manager.” She opened the project in their software and assigned work activities. Employees logged in, performed work and tracked their time.

While the work was being executed, the project manager usually checked on it. If something wasn’t done well, she sent it back for correction. For the most part, Acme’s work was finished on time and the quality was good.

Acme spent years honing their “project management” approach. (re-creating the wheel)

Bold Leadership Pushed Them Forward

Acme wasn’t a stick in the mud, by any means. They were small, but they were bold and hungry. They weren’t afraid to implement new processes, if they thought there was a way to improve. In fact, Acme was known to implement changes with great frequency. Sometimes, the changes were small. Sometimes, the changes were sweeping and substantial.

Changes Set Them Back

Acme’s way of implementing change usually triggered losses. They failed to treat each change like a project; therefore, change wasn’t managed. When it came to managing change within their organization, Acme’s common sense approach towards “project management” was nowhere to be found.


Acme lacked the body of knowledge referred to as project management; therefore, they didn’t recognize that their internal changes were projects. From managing the delivery of their services to managing their changes, their preconceived notions got in their way.

They decided that formal project management is for large organizations and monumental undertakings. Besides not having the budget for such grandiose notions, they didn’t see how it was applicable to them.

They decided they were too small for project management.

They Just Didn’t Get It

For internal changes, no one opened the new project in their software application and no one was assigned responsibility for implementing it. No one planned a schedule and no one provided regular communications about the project. Some employees knew the vision; some did not. No employee was engaged in crafting it.

The genesis for change went like this: One or two managers had an idea and, swiftly, orders were barked down the very small chain of command. There was never any real planning and never a review of lessons learned. In fact, Acme never captured a single one. Their lessons learned remained scattered across the memories of numerous employees, many of whom had already left.

They believed their “no hassle” approach to project management and their “because I said so” approach to change management was the fastest, most cost-effective way of getting things done.

When Common Sense Makes Little Cents

Let’s get back to their service projects. There, Acme’s common sense approach to project management provided some short-term benefits. Remember? For the most part, they delivered their work on time and, for the most part, their service was good.

Over time; though, their failure to implement formal project management processes cost them greatly. Schedule and quality are just two aspects of a project. From a financial perspective, many of their service projects were failures.

Acme didn’t consider managing budget at the project level. It didn’t even occur to them. Likewise, they didn’t have procedures in place for managing and controlling scope, risk and procurements.

To remedy financially troubled projects, they made operational changes. The result wasn’t good.

Knowledge Walked Out the Door

Their service projects weren’t the only projects that exposed them to loss. Their frequent, unmanaged changes were also costly.

The implementation of each new change was more stressful than it needed to be. It frustrated everyone involved. Engagement wasn’t on the radar and the value of buy-in went unnoticed.

As you can imagine, Acme built an environment where employee turnover was the norm. They lost good people with specialized knowledge. When the knowledge walked out the door, so did the lessons learned.

Of course, numbers weren’t assigned to these losses. They weren’t accounted for.

Knowledge wasn’t the only thing that walked out the door. On occasion, a customer would follow an employee.

When customers left, the sales pressure mounted. Not once did Acme spot the correlation between lost customers and employee turnover. They simply pressed forward for more sales.

They decided their losses were attributable to the ebbs and flows of business.

Too Small for Project Management?

Project management is about making ideas happen and getting things done. It’s about managing resources and constraints to complete work on-time and within budget. When applied, it offers a systemic approach to continuous process improvement.

For these very reasons, small businesses need project management as much as large organizations do. In fact, they may need it more. Where resources are tight, the need for project management is heightened.

But what about fit? Doesn’t all of that process hamper a small business?

The project management processes are scalable and they apply regardless of the project type. More importantly, project management is a dependable wheel that’s already invented.

If yours is a small business (as most organizations are) don’t allow your preconceived notions of project management get in your way. If you once saw a methodology that was too cumbersome, perhaps what you didn’t like was the fit.

On the day Acme was founded, one man sat at one desk in one home office. From that day forward, Acme was the right size for project management.

The day Acme went out of business, they became too small for project management.

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