How SMBs can punch above their weight with pay-as-you-go project management — Part 1 of 2

Mike Harvey
6 min readOct 30, 2020

Business Owners and executives of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs) have great instincts. They see the big picture, the competitive landscape, and manifest business courage to propel their objectives. They evolve ideas, evaluate the inputs and outputs required to achieve them, look for flaws, until eventually one stands out as extremely compelling.

After careful consideration, the business commits, and its leaders collectively press GO. One of them — typically the head of the business unit receiving the idea outcome or product — is anointed the Project Owner and the champion of the initiative. Excitement is high, the vision is clear. The Project Owner eats and breathes the “whats” and “whys” of the project. They accept responsibility for the project’s successful implementation and know their business is counting on them.

But quickly, our Project Owner knows they must evolve the “whos” and “hows” to drive the project forward off the starting blocks. Who will complete the required tasks? Where will they come from, and how will they do so? What processes will they follow, and what tools and technology will best support them? Who will manage the day-to-day performance of the project, facilitate commitment and productivity, remove obstacles, manage quality, mitigate risks?

These are big questions, and the answers are imperative to their project achieving success. It must deliver the scope within the required time and budget. In parallel, the business must continue to operate and deliver value to its customers in its current state and prepare for the future state. It is here when the Project Owner, realizing the criticality of both, sees a clear division with a basis in strengths, objectivity and accountability.

Jaime Myers, Senior Project Manager at CMHWorks, remarks, “Successful projects have a clear delineation between ownership and management. Once the Project Owner sets the vision and defines the scope, their most critical and time-sensitive decision is the deputization of a Project Manager. The Project Manager develops the game plan, assembles the resources, defines the processes and guides them to victory. The Project Owner must select a Project Manager with the time, capabilities, experience and personal qualities needed to do this job.”

Even once convinced of the need and value of a Project Manager, the Project Owner in a small or medium sized business (SMB) rarely has a Project Manager on staff, and may be leery of the costs, effort, or ability to find a good one. Managed Services organizations are responding to this need by offering Project Management services to SMBs both independently and integrated within other IT/Software, branding and marketing and information security offerings.

This article will help the small and medium-sized enterprise understand the value of project management and control as a separate function deserving of a specialist — i.e., a professional Project Manager. It offers guidance on how to acquire this service on a scalable, as-needed basis, as well as what to look for and what projects benefit most. And finally, it explores how project management services deliver project success, as well as influence a culture within your business capable of driving future projects.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL DESERVES A SPECIALIST

When Project Owners are asked how they envision leading the design, execution, and delivery of their project, they articulate qualities one often attributes to an executive function. They want a passionate leader communicative about the project’s vision, and with the ability to transform it into a series of definable tasks. They need a resourceful leader capable of staffing, organizing and motivating resources to complete these tasks, even while there are forces outside of the project competing for their attention. And finally, they demand an accountable leader who operates as if the project was itself a business entity — diligently measuring and controlling costs, schedule and value/quality of the deliverables to the plan, else risking failure.

The Project Manager does not manage operational staff, customers or organizational objectives outside of the project. Instead, it operates as a line function responsible for achieving the goals of the project by defining its processes and managing its performance. The Project Manager’s customers are the project stakeholders. They are beholden to the Project Owner, and their sole advocacy is to the project.

By dedicating a Project Manager, the SMB assigns a resource with overall responsibility for the successful planning, design, execution, and delivery of a project. The Project Manager defines and maintains objectives, purpose, and scope. They identify stakeholders, gain authorization, identify resources and their roles and responsibilities, and act as a communication hub for them all. The Project Manager clearly outlines the deliverables and milestones, and the quality by which they will be measured — allowing the Project Owner to thoughtfully plan and prepare. Should risks or issues arise, the Project Owner is assured by the Project Manager’s motivation to carefully consider, communicate and mitigate them.

All of this allows the Project Owner, and its business to know that their project will progress forward diligently and predictably, while it can remain focused on operational objectives and customer satisfaction. They benefit from a single point of contact who regularly and accurately communicates project status, and to whom they can ask questions and provide direction.

WHERE SHOULD SMBs LOOK TO FIND A PROJECT MANAGER

Finding this resource in-house, especially those in small to medium sized enterprises, can be a challenge as most lack skilled, trained Project Managers. Instead, they may look to temporarily reassign talent within their current ranks, looking for who possess the desired qualitative skills.

But pulling an existing resource onto this project often comes at a high opportunity cost — they are fully allocated and valuable in their current roles, and they need training and support to master project management process and tools among other key subject matter areas specific to the project.

Do they instead take on the time insensitive process of hiring a dedicated Project Manager and carry the skill on the payroll? Maybe — but that is a big commitment for a single project. Can they take advantage of the Gig economy? Or outsource the whole project, trusting another entity with project control and delivery?

It is possible to shop for the perfect project manager to suit a particular project and engage them for the specific initiative. This is one major advantage that using project management as a service can offer over an in-house employee. Outsourcing allows a business to vet project managers for highly specialized knowledge or skills relevant to a project. The right project manager has a deep network and knows how to identify, leverage and communicate with disparate actors across multiple organizations and sources.

The Gig Economy refers to economic activity that involves the use of temporary or freelance workers to perform jobs typically in the service sector but more recently in highly-skilled areas that assist organizations in completing complex tasks or projects without hiring a full-time worker.

A company may find that it is beneficial to contract a PM who works in the same organization with another function of the project, like software development or information-security compliance. This sort of team building gives the Project Manager broader access to key expertise quickly and easily when it is needed on your project. This type of team synergy can make all kinds of exciting, forward-leaning initiatives possible and improve speed to market and put your company ahead of the competition.

Part 2 of this article will highlight some of the project that benefit most from outsourced project management services and expand on the benefits you can realize as an organization.

Contact CMHWorks today to learn more about our Project Management services can help you successfully complete your product and service goals.

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Mike Harvey

Mike is the founder of CMH Works, LLC and has been an IT Executive, Chief Architect and Web Developer for over 25 years