In the last few months, I have been speaking to people that have a great business idea that they would love to pursue. They have a vision and enthusiasm; have done their business plan and customer research and are ready to get cracking on their idea and get their product to market.
Then they hit a wall.
Typically the comments I hear are:
- I don’t know where to start or
- I’m not really sure how much time and money I can commit as I am still working full time
I ask them if they have considered using a project management approach and unsurprisingly I usually hear either a ‘no’ or ‘how does project management fit into my business?’
Using project management within your business can help you get a product or service to market smarter and faster.
Before we get started, however, it’s really important to understand what a project is. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as:
‘A temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique, product, service or result. It has a specific beginning and end and the end is reached when the objectives of the project are achieved, or it is decided to cancel the project’.
The benefits of taking a ‘project approach’ to certain things within your business are numerous and can include:
- Turning a business idea in to a reality
- Having a clear and structured approach to realise a business objective
- Launching your product/service to take advantage of your market at the specific time of year that best takes advantage of consumer demand
So how do you execute an idea using a project management approach? Follow these seven steps to get your product to market:
1. Understand your project boundaries.
Being really clear about what your product or service specifications are is super important as it means you won’t deviate from the core specifications. This clear understanding of what work you need to do will assist you with budgeting, and figuring out how long it will take to get market, as you will know what is and isn’t included. You can of course always change the specifications in the future by reducing or adding to your project boundaries. If you are adding to your specifications perhaps you can consider this as a new version for a future release (and a future project).
2. Break the work down in to chunks.
Some of you may have heard the terms work breakdown structure (WBS). Well, this basically means breaking down the work you need to do in to manageable chunks of work. You can start this by understanding each specification or need to develop your product/service.
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Let’s say your product is an app. You might need to research the app, source an app developer, design the app, test the app etc.
Understand the deliverables of each chunk of work, for example with researching the app deliverable one could be ‘understand market demand for the app’ and deliverable two could be ‘complete research and development (R&D)’. With sourcing an app developer deliverable one would be ‘select an app developer’ and deliverable to ‘sign a contract with the app developer’.
3. Identify resourcing needs.
Write up a list of whom and what you need to make the chunks of work identified above happen. Take in consideration who is available to you at the moment and where there are gaps in resourcing needs as you will need to mitigate these needs.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you working on this project yourself?
- If you are, then what are your time constraints? (Consider your commitments to maintaining existing business cash flow, family time and recreational time.)
- Do you have staff?
- What commitments do your staff have with their existing workload and do they have enough time to work on this project without getting stressed out?
- Will you need to hire a service provider such as an app developer or a graphic designer to make up any lack of skills or knowledge within your business?
Once you have asked yourself these questions you can then apply the time available to you, your staff and service providers in the next step.
4. Understand timeframes.
Now that you have done the first three steps above you can take the clearly defined project specifications, the defined chunks of work with deliverables and the resources available and come up with a timeframe to make your project happen.
Look at each chunk of work and break it down in to activities to meet the deliverables you created earlier. Understand which activities are being done step-by-step in order to meet your deliverables. To understand how long each activity will take you will need to take in to consideration how long you would like each activity to take. You will then need to consider the resources available to you (including yourself), the service providers needed and determine whether they are enough hours available to meet the timeframes. If there is enough time for you and your staff this makes things much easier for you. If not, you will either need to look at making the timeframes longer or hiring additional people. With hiring service providers you can articulate to them when they need to deliver when you negotiate their service.
5. Understand costs.
Getting your costs right is crucial. Failure to get your costs right may mean reducing the specifications in your product or service which will ultimately reduce its quality or desirability.
To understand your costs take your timeline above and apply the costs of yours and your staff’s time to each activity. If Sally costs you $50p/h and you assign her to an activity that takes 10 hours then that activity costs $500. Your time is really valuable too so work out how much you cost to your project especially if it means you aren’t doing any chargeable work to anyone else. This is also the time to get quotes from service providers so you can determine a cost and apply to your timeline.
Once you have done this you will have a good idea of how much your project is costing you per week/month. It will also give you a heads up of when you can expect to pay your service providers or suppliers and how much, which will support you understanding business cash flow.
6. Understand what can go wrong.
Even the best laid and well thought out plans can go wrong. Employees leave, people get sick or suppliers go out of business. To avoid your project going off track and delaying your business objectives take a good look at what can go wrong and analyse the likelihood of it. If there is a fair chance of it happening then forewarned is forearmed and you can monitor the chances of it happening, and ultimately avoid it happening if possible. Understand the consequences of anything going wrong as well, just because something is likely to happen doesn’t mean it has to be a big impact on your project. Or something else is unlikely to happen and if it does then what does that mean. Perhaps this means the app you were wanting to get out for Christmas may have to wait until five months later.
7. Wrap it up in to a brief
Summarise what you have created in the six steps above in to one document. The benefit of putting it all in to a brief is so you have an easy to access plan that you can refer to through-out your project so you can monitor your performance and see any deviations. You can also use this project brief to share with your staff or any suppliers so they can understand what it is you wish to achieve as it supports them buying in to your vision.
Following the steps above will enable you to understand what you do, by when and by how much it will cost you to meet your business objective. It will help you focus and get your product to market smarter and faster.