Some project managers find a home in fast-growing smaller companies, and start-ups. But what is life like in this environment?
Paul Holmes — Managing Director/Owner — PCH Business Support — providing Business Engineering, Project Management and growth support to small businesses and also helping overwhelmed business leaders move from fire fighting to being strategic
After 25+ years in FTSE100 organisations, principally in Capital Project Management and large scale organisational programme management including a Global HQ/ Manufacturing Facility, an Engineering College and a decade of Innovation funded programmes as well as large local authority led projects– now run my own consultancy providing business support for small businesses and organisations — frequently crossing from advice and guidance into operational support in the form of project management, including change, new systems and processes.
So although not one single company, I work as a project manager for most of my clients as part of my role, helping them to grow and overcome challenges and be operational as needed.
Companies that I currently help through project management has included a specialist cleaning company, an engineering company, a healthcare company, and an accountant, from £250k — £2million turnover typically. My current project being with a small family run accountancy firm. I have seen a 30% increase in revenue in 6 months working with this company. They are currently signed up to a 6 month development programme with PCH. The programme involves detailed initial evaluation, development project list, action lists and then classic project management of tasks to completion.
Project Management in a small business is distinctly different to large scale organisations. In large scale the discipline around systems and processes is taken for granted. Members of the project team operate to standard project management process steps, maybe a system with defined parameters, language roles and responsibilities, clear scope budget and timescales. To commence a project in a large scale organisation involves scoping work evaluations, consideration of payback, approvals and then dedicated teams to deliver a project. In small scale projects in small companies, project discipline and systems are very much less well established and a “by any means” attitude often is the controlling principle in SMEs. The role of a project manager is therefore more expansive than a larger organisational project. The project manager takes direct responsibility for all activities in the project themselves with no team to delegate to. It is often the existing staff on other day to day tasks that have to contribute to the project and they have separate no project specific daily deadlines or specific deliverables to customers. Finding time to run project tasks can be challenging, as the project manager tasks often fall on their shoulders to actually implement not just oversee. The role also very often becomes highly operational alongside the staff, leadership and owners projects impacting on day to day activity of the normal running of the business and they often see projects having to give way to normal operation, meaning delivery dates and budget are difficult to maintain. Budgets often smaller than ideal, meaning that corners need to be cut, less optimal solutions found. In very small companies where the project is a system/process/management change, implementing requires integration with the direct running of the business, so the “Project Manager” can become very operational, acting as a manager in the business, motivating and monitoring the team, part of the planning processes, management meetings and providing training, advice and guidance and very often governance to owners and Directors.
Less disciplined Project Manager more general projects dogsbody!
However the variety and interaction with all aspects of the business, as with the entire staff, and having the ability to have a much greater impact on the business is highly enjoyable and therefore much more satisfying. It can also make projects almost impossible to deliver as intended.
In the case of the Accountant firm, it has been about managing improvement projects, implementing processes and procedures, introducing monitoring checking and KPIs. Steadily re-evaluating the business and implementing changes on an almost continuous basis much more like an operations director than a project or programme manager, but has been highly effective to date improving profitability by 10% during the same period as the 30% growth in turnover.