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Project Management – Punch Above Your Weight

When it comes to delivering high calibre projects on-time, on-budget, anywhere in world … innovative small businesses can compete with the best of them.

In fact, small scale can bring a number of advantages, such as speed, adaptability and close customer relationships, that bigger organisations find hard to match. This is particularly true when the small business makes effective use of the right project management software.

A great example is Ben Thompson, the creative director of Studiofluid, a branding and design company in Los Angeles. He recently completed a major packaging design project for one of Italy’s largest supermarkets Coop Italia, thanks to the right software: “I was able to manage my team of 3 local, but remotely located designers, communicate efficiently with the client located on another continent, and deliver a product that we’re extremely proud of”.  Ben uses Basecamp by 37Signals to manage his projects, and believes that it “provides me the infrastructure of a larger company, while allowing me to retain the flexibility of a smaller one”.

Ben also suggests that the right project management software can even help drive sales. He says it is “so easy to understand that I’m even able to get reluctant clients to jump on there with me. And that’s exactly the point. The software is so simple and effective that I actually use it as a selling point in every proposal I write”.

While Basecamp is one of the best known online project management & collaboration tools, there are a host of others to consider, such as: Clarizen, Zoho Projects, WorkflowMax, ManyMoon, GoPlan, Huddle and many others.

A different twist on project management software comes from Amanda Roberts, CEO of Stone Cobra. She runs a small enterprise software business that works mainly for really big customers – Fortune 500 – and previously found that getting access to the customer’s own project management and collaboration tools (often MS Project or Sharepoint) was problematic, including delays getting access, VPN configuration issues, limits on licenses, etc. Rather than developing their own project software, Amanda spent a few days researching and doing trials of already available solutions.

She selected Clarizen as an online solution to manage both internal and client-facing projects. The choice was heavily influenced by a few powerful features. First, Clarizen offered  free client/partner licenses, allowing her to get client staff onto the system at no extra cost and without the hassles of managing licenses.  Secondly, Clarizen had features to interact solely by email — meaning project team members in these Fortune 500 clients don’t even need to login to a new system; they just reply to email reminders. The net result: Stone Cobra plugs into its much bigger clients quickly and with minimal disruption to the established ways of working.

These customer stories demonstrate some important lessons for any small business looking at project management software:

  • Be clear on your specific requirements. Think about which features will make the biggest impact on your business (and your clients)
  • Online solutions can be great for remote or multi-location teams, as well as leaping corporate firewalls (or policies) in a single bound.
  • Effective project management is a powerful selling point for your business, not just a boring back-end process.

Finally, make sure you invest adequate time to work out which of the many available solutions is right for you. Project management software can certainly help your small business punch above its weight … but only if you choose one that truly fits your business needs.

About the Author

Craig Westcott is a co-founder of SoftwareShortlist and also works as a consultant within the software and technology sectors. His experience includes consulting, sales, management and strategy for blue chip organisations and tier 1 consultancies over the past 15 years. Most recently he was responsible for launching two businesses for a fast growing consulting company, Fusion5.