What small business owner doesn't want to run a more profitable business with fewer expenses, and less stress? Here are three ways that you can begin to apply the power of project management to your business, starting today, to improve your bottom line.
Always Ask Why
Though The Lean Start Up began as a book by Eric Ries, the business management model quickly exploded into a movement all its own—particularly because of its appeal to entrepreneurs looking for ways to work smarter instead of harder. Though The Lean Start Up encompasses many methodologies, some are easily applied to any size of business for instant improvement to operations. The next time you face a business challenge, try the Lean Start Up's “Five Why's” principle designed to arrive at the root cause of the problem—and to identify the real solution.
Suppose for example, that you've experienced a high volume of returns with one particular product. Initially, you may assume a quality issue with the vendor. After conducting a five why's analysis, however, you may arrive
at an entirely different solution. Here's an example of how it works:
Problem: Our product is returned frequently.
1-Why? Customers are disappointed once they receive it.
2-Why are customers disappointed? It's not what they
3-Why isn't it what they expect? The photography is
4-Why is the photography misleading? We used a stock
5-Why did we write it ourselves? We don't have creative professionals on staff.
With this example, you can quickly see how a problem you
may have assumed would be solved with one approach is
related to an entirely different issue.
Test Before You Execute
You invest time and money into marketing products but when your audience doesn't respond in a way that you presumed, you don't just lose your investment; you lose time, energy, and resources that could've been put to better use elsewhere. To mitigate the risk of such lost opportunity, incorporate a “build-measure learn feedback loop” as advocated by The Lean Start Up into your project management process.
The premise is simple: Before you make any financial investment to develop a new service or product, put it in front of a small test audience for feedback. The process can be as simple as sharing ideas around price, service, and concepts with your social media fans, and inviting their honest and detailed feedback. With this test and learn strategy, you may fi nd that “problems” you thought customers wanted solved aren't what you thought—before you make any significant investment.
Prioritize Open Communication
You may feel like it's your role as the small business owners to keep certain aspects of your business private but not giving employees open access to the information they need to truly be accountable and vested in your goals is one of the biggest hindrances to effective project management. Choose webbased project management tools and apps that ensure that everyone on the team has access to shared fi les, and select one that complements the way they prefer to work, so it actually becomes the “go to” tool. (For example, a project management tool for a company that relies heavily on email should include a plug in to whatever email software is already used, so users aren't made to change their current work habits drastically).
Much like the test and learn loop in The Lean Start Up, continually seek feedback from your team as to what's working, and what needs improvement. Establish leaders at the project or product level, but invite any employee who is interested to collaborate in projects—regardless of their skill set and role in the company. Though this project management structure will require that you resist the urge to “micromanage,” you'll likely find that employees become more proactive, and engaged in ensuring projects are completed successfully.