Most entrepreneurs are known for being visionaries — big thinkers with big ideas, who sell their vision to investors, customers and staff, who help implement the vision.Â If they're well-funded, presumably, Founders can bring in managers who take care of the details, whether it's a web development manager overseeing product development, or an event planner managing a trade show production.
Well, as someone who has been at it for over 16 years, I can tell you one thing.Â Entrepreneurs who have excellent Project Management (PM) skills go a lot further than those who do not.Â It can be a major handicap to always have to delegate details because one simply gets overwhelmed when it comes to creating and managing large task lists.Â Even if someone else is managing the details, it is still important for Founders and Owners to hone and flex their Project Management muscle, so as to be in tune with the company's most valuable asset — it's people and how productively they're spending their time.Â So herein, we explore what PM-related questions Entrepreneurs should be asking themselves, as well as their top managers.
These are Six Key Questions that drive good Project Management Methodology.Â Answering these questions well and honestly fuels the cyclical process of continuous process improvement, and ultimately increases project profitability and client satisfaction.Â While this outline was created from an agency service point of view, the Questions are easily adaptable to brick-and-mortar, product and virtually all types of business projects.
1.Â "What is the project plan?" Before projects start, or in the very first stages, a clear-cut project plan must be created by the Project Manager, that follows the spirit or letter of the contract/agreement made with the client, which can be one's boss or an outside customer (i.e. certain deliverables agreed, services to be provided, etc).Â A “clear-cut project plan” means that all of the known project tasks must be delineated (described and with budgeted hours for each) and sorted by priority and logical order, and assigned to specific staff members or roles (i.e. Web Designer, PHP Programmer, etc).Â With this in place, the Discovery, Research, Strategy and/or Design tactics can begin.
2. As soon as the project starts, the next important question that Project Manager’s should have at their fingertips is “Are we on pace, spending the amount of time that we said we would in sync with the contract and revenues being generated for this project?” Time should obviously be tracked daily, in whatever the company's time management system is, to the specific tasks being executed.Â It is the PM’s job to make sure project staff is tracking properly, although an Operations Analyst may assist PMs by notifying them when project staff appears to be under or over-spending time on any given project under that PM’s domain.
3. Next important question once the two steps above are in motion is this – “Is the time that the team is spending on the project quality time?” OR asked another way “Are the specified tasks being done well and as efficiently as possible?” This quality of work issue is a top priority of PMs, although staff should obviously have the integrity and competence to execute their assigned tasks well and diligently, with their best efforts.Â Account Managers (AMs) can and should get involved if quality issues arise, as can the company’s senior management.Â Other members of the project team should also take ownership and quality check (QC) each other's work.Â “All in One, One in All” is the team-based philosophy that helps operating teams function as cohesive units.
4. Now, the very important fourth step, and always a difficult one because it involves looking in the mirror for the whole team.Â This step comes at least 4-6 weeks into the project, but should always be in the back of the minds of the PMs especially, as well as AMs and all project team members.Â The question is – “Are we actually spending our time on the most effective strategies for the services which we’re hired to provide?” For example, we’re hired for SEO and decided in Step 1 (Project Plan) to go after long-tail keywords and go heavy on blog-based link building with the 50 allotted hours per month.Â We’re three months in and results are slow.Â Was/is this still the best approach?Â You see, maybe Steps 1-3 were all well-thought out and done well, but if we’re still using out-dated SEO tactics because we missed some key points about the latest Google Plus-1 or Facebook Open Graph updates, we may be wasting those 50 hours (our time) AND the client’s money!Â So this is a very important question, which has to be asked honestly, and critiqued from the outside (PMs won’t always see or want to admit poor or outdated strategies, or may not have the expertise or insights in every particular case to choose an optimal approach).Â This question, if asked and answered well, can lead to strategic shifts in the Project Plan (back to Step 1).
5. Closely connected to Question 4 is the fifth question of the cycle.Â “Are we meeting or exceeding our own and client expectations on this project (or campaign)?” It could technically come before Question 4, but sometimes it’s too early to judge results and we want to avert bad results ahead of time instead of waiting for disappointment and then reacting.Â Sometimes a client’s expectations alone are not a good enough measure; because clients can be naive and think “I have a great website” when in truth, the work was sub-par and below a true standard for the project type and size. Results and expectations should always be set and agreed upon, to the degree possible at the start or early stages of the project (near Step 1) or even in the Contract, before Step 1.
6. The sixth and ultimate question is the most important.Â “Was/is the project profitable?” This isn’t just a question for the end of the project, but to ask and then measure periodically (at least monthly, by the PM and Operations Analyst) throughout the project, so that adjustments can be made.Â The CEO, Shareholders and Operations team should be looking at Project Profitability closely, to evaluate PMs and project staff.Â Whomever is responsible for productive, profitable work should and will be rewarded for it, especially if the company is able to properly measure profitability.Â There are many ways to profit from a project, but the most important is pure comparison of time & materials invested by the company against the revenues brought in for the specific service contract covered by that time & materials (time = staff salaries, materials = overhead).Â Other ways to profit include doing a good enough job (See Question 5) to generate additional project work orders from clients, have them renew recurring billing agreements and gain referrals, testimonials and case studies that help the company win new business.Â Lastly, although an intangible profit metric for the company, but a benefit nevertheless, is new skills learned by the project staff.Â Experience gained is not a direct form of profit, but an asset nonetheless, which should facilitate future profits for the company as well as project staff.
Beyond the passion required of Entrepreneurs to fuel their ventures and everyone around them, this type of project management, resource profitability oriented thinking is essential to the ultimate and long-term viability of any business venture. Â Entrepreneurs would do well to ask themselves and their PMs these 6 questions on a regular basis!
Arman Rousta is Founder & CEO of digital agency, Blueliner, which services startups and established companies such as IZOD, California Closets, and Lufthansa. Read more about Arman here.