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Simple Project Management: The Answer To Your Project Management Process Headaches

Aidan HornsbyLast Updated: March 6, 2017

Matt was feeling kind of dumb.

On the outside, his twelve person startup looked successful. It was profitable, winning awards, and undertaking big projects with Fortune 50 companies. 

On the inside, it was a different story. Projects were going over budget. People were leaving the company as fast as they were joining it. Projects would routinely go off the rails and Matt would find himself scrambling just to stay on top of things. The company was in a state of constant, barely-managed chaos, with no project management process in place.

A few weeks earlier, Matt had decided that the way to fix this would be to read up on project management, take some project management courses, and implement some kind of project methodology—a magic bullet that would solve the issues of improper client management, late delivery, and exceeded budgets. 

He had started reading blog posts, learning about different frameworks and trying, fruitlessly, to install them in the company. At one point he picked up a 500 page textbook on ‘Agile’ project management and started reading.

But the more he waded through the jargon and the deeper he wandered into the world of big project management, the dumber and more helpless he felt. Popular complex project management methodologies were simply too big for his small team to absorb and implement. They were clearly designed with larger teams in mind, they never paid much attention to how his team really worked, and at the end of the day, they simply didn’t work.

How Project Management Processes Hurt Small Companies

So why does Matt feel dumb? 

Why is it that, for every Fortune 500 project manager who has read books like Agile Project Management, there are hundreds of Matts out there who have read the same books, attempted to implement the same methodologies, and achieved mixed results at their small company, or even made things worse?

And if traditional project management can’t help Matt rein in the chaos, what can? 

The first step to reining in the chaos at a small company is to acknowledge that a certain amount of uncertainty is inevitable. 

Weird and unexpected things happen when a company goes from a small group of pals to a real team.

Managers find themselves taking on multiple roles—managing projects, accounts, hiring, business development, and everything in between. The list of basic things to figure out—how to keep the lights on, how to make payroll—becomes impossibly long. Every week becomes a struggle to stay above water.

At the same time, the big picture questions never stop. Which management structure should the company use? What are the company’s values? What is the company’s mission statement? Who’s the target customer? What’s our pricing model? Should we hire now? Did we hire too fast?

Scaling up, rather than being a central goal, can weirdly turn into a bothersome, even annoying prospect. Companies become so focused on week-over-week sustenance that the future often appears only in soft focus, barely a blip on the horizon.

The bottom line: The nature of work at small companies is different from work at large companies

Many a project management institute has been built trying to convince small business owners that big company project management solutions can work for them as well.

But small teams are usually working with limited resources, are less structured, and have a need for a kind of flexibility that you won’t find at large companies. And so it makes sense that project management solutions designed for giant, well-financed, regimented teams can mislead and even hurt smaller teams. 

Smaller teams need a different solution — something much simpler and more flexible than a methodology. 

Thankfully, this solution already exists, in the form of good project habits that your small company might already be engaging in. 

We’ve decided to call these good habits ‘Simple Project Management.’

Enter: Simple Project Management

The first step to implementing Simple Project Management at your company is understanding that you need not feel dumb for not learning traditional project management methodologies. 

Put down that 500 page textbook and take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.

The second step is understanding that, while traditional project management solutions might not work for you, just squeaking by via any means necessary also isn’t good enough.

Consistently failing projects can poison your business and make everyone feel terrible at their job, especially when you’re at a small 10-person startup. Having no structure of project discipline at all is no way to approach project management at any company, large or small. 

Think about the value of your team’s time. At a small, ascendant company, every second is enormously valuable.

What your team needs are good, common-sense, methodology-agnostic habits for getting stuff done right now. 

You need habits that, rather than grinding things to a halt and overhauling the way you do everything, complement what you’re doing and results in immediate benefits. You need habits that, hopefully, become the bedrock of a company-wide culture of project discipline.

This series on Simple Project Management is about six habits that we believe represent the simplest solutions to the most common project management problems at small companies.

In putting together this list, we wanted to cut through the reflexive advice of project management—the stuff that might be a bit advanced for your average handful-sized team—and create some solid, actionable rules for managing work better today. 

After all, getting into a rhythm and learning to run projects at your company successfully can take years. You don’t go from zero to Waterfall master overnight. No amount of project management certification can replace good project management habits. Everyone needs the right habits before they can do anything, and conversely, if your team grows up with bad habits, no methodology can save them. 

Think of Simple Project Management not as a magic bullet, but as a starting point.

Read on to dive into Simple Project Management Habit #1: Choosing only projects that help achieve your business goals

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