Despite our best efforts, most plans fail.
Not a slim majority of them, either—according to 4pm.com, most organizations are looking at 70% failure rates for their ambitious projects.
Even Dwight D. Eisenhower, charged with the D-Day invasion that swung the tide of World War II, once wrote: “Peace-time plans are of no particular value.” Then he finished with: “But peace-time planning is indispensable.”
Enter the concept of project management. While your best-laid plans might not always make your daily life in small business a breeze, it doesn’t mean that you can’t optimize your project management tools to set yourself up for success in planning. You only need the right tools, the right strategies for implementation, and a consistent mindset to use project management software as an ally for organization and simplification—not a time-thief. Here’s what you’ll need to know:
Find the Right Project Management Tool
It starts with identifying the tool that’s best for your small business. What will simplify your life? What will unify the office into a well-oiled machine of productivity? Here are a few factors you should take into account when browsing tools:
- A dashboard. “Dashboard” is a good word here. Like a car’s dashboard, it should only take a glance to get the gist of your day’s work. A good dashboard will incorporate project tracking, reporting, and scheduling in one space in a relatively intuitive way.
- Simple collaboration. Can you invite other users to take part of a project? Do they have to go through a complicated registration process to work with you? Simple collaboration is essential for establishing one source for communication and updates between workers.
- File sharing. Most of today’s projects leave a massive digital footprint. If your project management tool doesn’t make it easy to track file versions and share those files across the project’s team, then it’s going to be more work than the tool itself is worth.
If that sounds like a lot of research to do, don’t worry: these tools are plentiful. We even have a few suggestions that you can peruse today:
- Trello is a favorite of remote workers because it’s simple, straightforward, and free to use. Here are some beginner tips for using Trello courtesy of the company itself.
- Slack is ideal for small businesses, simplifying communication and streamlining your messaging, even within an office setting. Check out this YouTube tutorial for using Slack.
- GoToMeeting our fellow LogMeIn product is a simple way to communicate through audio or video conferencing with those inside and outside of your organization.
- Basecamp is intuitive and easy to use for multiple projects, which is great for anyone whose job description includes “project manager”—which should really be revised to projects manager. Basecamp puts out a “Master the Basecamp basics” tutorial that simplifies things for new users.
Make a Project Management Tool Work for You
Personal finance experts will tell you that money can go one of two ways: either you can work for it, or you can reverse your fortune and have money work for you. It’s the same with project management tools. You can either ignore their features and never bother with the tutorial, or you make an upfront investment of time and energy to ensure that these tools do end up making your life easier. Here are a few tips for making it work:
- Invite everyone in your small business to join. Getting everyone set up on Basecamp, for example, will allow you to make company-wide announcements. This also helps keep everyone’s respective email folders as clear as possible since they’re free to work through the internal project management tool for their vital projects.
- Use every tool. File sharing, scheduling, task management—if you’re not doing it all through your chosen project management tool, then you’re not giving it a chance to work its simplifying magic. That’s what it’s there for! Don’t use a separate tool for emailing and file sharing when you can do it all through a single dashboard.
- Cut out meetings. You hate meetings, I hate meetings, we all hate meetings. So stop having them when they aren't needed. A tool like Basecamp gives you the option of automatic check-ins that update you on a project’s status without having to hog the conference room. Save meetings for group activities like brainstorming, ideation and other collaborate tasks.
- Customize your email notifications. When you start off with a new project management system, you’re going to receive an email every time someone so much as winks in your direction. You can customize this. Go into your settings and ask yourself what you want your email inbox to look like every day. If you need email reminders to kick you into gear, great. Use them. If not, keep the inbox clear.
Best Practices for Making Project Management Simple
Even with all of these fancy tools at hand and the tips to make full use of them, there are still a few principles you’ll need to incorporate into your life as a project manager that will make things easier.
- Clarity. What is the goal of the project? Without a clear, written, definable goal—preferably, with a timeline attached to it—then there’s nothing to work toward. To quote Creed from “The Office”—“what’s this all been about? What am I working towards?”
- Communicate. If something is unclear, ask it—and do it sooner rather than later. You don’t want to roll up tight on a deadline without any clear sense of how a project is going or whether a file is going to be ready. In project management, your lines of communication are your supply lines. They’re vital. Keep them open.
- Don’t over-communicate. Communication is so important that some people will tell you that it’s impossible to “over-communicate.” Not so. Don’t let your project management tool update you on every little item when someone else is managing the project. Cut out excessive notifications and make sure that you let your team do what it was hired to do. Remember: the goal is more simplicity in your daily life, not less.
Tweak Your Project Management System for More Success
As you get used to the features of your chosen project management tool, you’ll get a sense for what works for you and what doesn’t. But stick at it. The more your customize your own dashboard and tailor your strategy for what works in your small business, the more your schedule will run like a well-oiled machine.