An Introduction to Common Sense Project Management at MBI Systems
I’m often asked, "What is Common Sense Project Management?"
Common Sense Project Management begins with what’s needed most by the small business: An appropriate level of planning.
I say appropriate because it's a mistake to over-plan. More correctly, it’s just as much a mistake to over-plan as it is to under-plan, and what Common Sense Project Management does for clients is provide the right amount of planning given what needs to be accomplished.
Common Sense Project Management is about doing the right amount of planning given the desired result. You don’t want to do too much and you don’t want to do too little. You want to do what’s just right.
To accomplish this requires a clear goal. You need a very clear goal established at the outset of each project that describes exactly what the project is going to accomplish. What I find in most small businesses, particularly in projects that are technical in nature, is that the clear goal for the project never actually gets figured out and (if it is figured out) it's certainly not articulated.
Let me give you an example. I am working with a client who wants to grow their business from its current sales of about 1.2 million per year to 3.5 million per year over a three-year period. Seems simple and straightforward, but is it?
I asked the client, “Okay, how are we going to measure success? Is this $3.5 million a gross sales number? Is it a net revenue number? Is it a gross margin number? Is it money in a savings account?” The answers will make a big difference in how we go about tackling the project planning necessary to achieve the desired result. Whether we are talking about a gross sales number or a net profit will entirely change the way we measure success and (dramatically affect) the way we approach planning the growth.
In the particular example I am talking about, one of the things I discovered during preplanning analysis was that the client really wasn’t comfortable with the terminology used to describe the difference between gross sales and gross profit numbers. The difference is huge. The discussion was valuable all by itself, because it helped the client see that increasing sales alone might or might not accomplish what he wanted.
This kind of discussion is something that project managers typically don’t get trained to address. For MBI Systems to successfully focus on small businesses and mid-size business, it's absolutely crucial that we understand, not only the nature of the business that we are going to be working with, but we must also understand the vocabulary the business owner uses to describe what it is that they use to measure, and how they plan to work.
We don’t have to understand everything about their business, but we have to come up with a common ground for effective communication that enables us to accomplish the clearly articulated goal.
Clarity is one of the things that makes MBI (especially valuable and) unique, particularly in our project management approach. We strive for clarity at the very outset of anything that we do. We pursue clarity vigorously, because we want to deliver exactly what you (our clients) want, and we don’t want to deliver things you don’t want.
We want for our clients exactly the same thing that we would want for ourselves if the roles were reversed.
How do I build a website? Do I even need one? How do I decide whether to buy more computers or get into this "cloud computing" thing? What's LinkedIn and what will it do for me? How can I streamline my administrative processes to buy time to work on more important things? How can I get all my phone numbers email and mailing addresses, appointments to dos and commitments into one place so I don't spend all my time looking for the right thing?
These and thousands of other questions prevent small business owners from focusing on important facets of their business. Worse yet, it keeps you awake well into too many nights. If you're not naturally organized, wakefulness seems a nightmare. Even if you are naturally organized, growing businesses require even the smartest, most organized owners to stretch themselves beyond current skills, aptitudes and limitations.
Growing a successful business requires doing many things you've never done before. Often, the new "things" become increasingly important and get added to your to do list as goals or "projects". The more complicated the project, the greater the risk and the greater the potential reward - IF - the project is organized and completed with an eye on its cost/benefit ratio throughout the process.
MBI Systems can relate. We're a small group of technically savvy business folks who've worked together for many years. Most of us are serial business owners ourselves and we understand that we can't do everything our growing business requires without a little help now and then. Because we understand, and because we value common sense so highly, we serve our fellow business owners by offering (among other things) tailored project management services designed to allow you to evaluate the business value of and then plan almost any kind of technical project with frequent reviews and checkpoints designed to ensure you get what you want in a straightforward, economical fashion.
Whenever possible, we prefer estimating our costs completely up front and then delivering them at a fixed price. We want you to know exactly what you're getting and what it will cost, and we'll know exactly what we're delivering at what price. We rarely estimate a project management price before making sure:
a) Your project will pay for itself,
b) Your project will benefit from our project management approach
c) We're clear about our mutual expectations
d) We have sufficient time, resources and capital to complete the project
d) We’re well suited to work well together for the duration of a project
Common Sense Project Management includes all the essentials for a successful project effort and equally importantly - ongoing business relationships between business owners, service providers and the workers who'll complete the project and help ensure its success.
Common Sense Project Management isn't a one size fits all planning tool, nor is it a complicated piece of technology that develops a life of its own. Rather, it's a philosophy guided by a dual notion:
1) Not everything's worth doing, and
2) Things worth doing are worth doing well.
It's also a unique toolkit of experience that enables MBI to lead a project from point “A” to point “B” in a way that demonstrates organization, good-judgment and careful consideration of costs, benefits and how to get from where we are to where we want to be.
Common Sense Project Management boasts many client benefits, but the following ten pop up frequently:
1. Guaranteed Fit: You pay nothing for MBI services until we reach a point where we both understand what we're committing to each other and both agree working together makes sense.
2. Project Clarity: MBI's project management includes development of a clear statement of the goal of each project along with its anticipated business value.
3. Effective Teams: MBI fits itself into your existing team and each project team naturally develops a personality of its own. Cookie cutters don't work and MBI doesn't use cookie cutters. We meet with team participants and project sponsors to figure out what we have versus what we'll need; who has what skills, aptitudes, strengths and weaknesses and we openly and honestly talk about whether we have what we'll need to complete the project or not. If the available team demonstrates ability to accomplish the project, planning proceeds, if not we ask ourselves the tough questions.
4. Focus on Priorities: We evaluate every project from differing, relevant points of view. Completing the project is only part of success. Key project benefits, ensuring their achievement and their appropriate fit within the unique company culture and business environment make success meaningful and valuable to clients, stakeholders, customers and suppliers.
5. Appropriate Tracking: MBI works with the project sponsor, most often the business owner, to find out how best to track and measure progress, milestones, go-no-go decision points and anything else the project manager, sponsor and stakeholders believe most important. We then agree on a tool, method and frequency for delivering this information.
6. Common Sense Plan: Most often called a “roadmap”. An organized, ordered list of tasks, milestones, resources, costs and deliverables leading to project completion. Small projects call for simple lists; larger ones warrant Excel Workbooks and larger ones may warrant Microsoft Project. Regardless of the planning tool, constant attention remains on the desired result and the answer to the question, "are we proceeding in the right direction, most effectively and efficiently?"
7. Candor: Truthful, candid evaluation of project progress, member participation, obstacles, risks, costs and benefits characterize every MBI engagement. Some projects make wonderful sense at the outset before new information or a change in circumstance necessitates a re-evaluation. Here, the golden rule reigns. MBI makes decisions based on what's best for its clients, even when this isn't necessarily what's best for our pocketbooks.
8. Yes means Yes and No means No: We don't pursue politically incorrect, but we do work hard to do what we say we'll do and avoid doing what we say we won't do. We expect that from our friends and our friends and clients have learned to expect if from us. Projects don't always go as planned. They don't always come in under budget and some aren't completed at all (often for good reason). As a client of MBI, you have a right to expect truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from everyone in our organization. We're confident that's what you'll get.
9. Flexibility: One of the greatest benefits of common sense project management is in its flexibility. By planning only next steps in detail, MBI ensures your project follows an organized, orderly path, but when better ideas, shorter paths, reversals of circumstance and the occasional blind-side occurs - you're ready to adapt and move on. This benefit is priceless.
10. Look Ahead Risk Assessment: Throughout project execution, personal crises, business crises, new risks, surprises and new opportunities crop up constantly. Always have and always will. MBI's common sense project management approach folds these realities into the natural way we do business. Surprises are only surprises if you expect none.
When you engage MBI Systems to help you plan or manage a business or technical project, you may expect careful attention, selfless service and good business judgment and recommendation throughout our relationship. Most of our business is from repeat customers and most of our customers have become friends.
If we sound like a good fit, call us today.