Someone starts a meeting by saying, "Let's talk about the budget."And you groan because you know what's about to happen next: hours of aimless discussion without resolving anything.Why?First, everyone knows that an agenda is the key to an effective meeting.But an agenda that consists of a list of nouns, such as budget, software, and picnic, is useless. In fact, it might even guarantee that a meeting will be a waste of time. Here's how to prepare a real agenda that puts you in control of the meeting.1) Goal. Every real agenda begins with a goal that describes the result wanted at the end of the meeting, such as: find a way to reduce travel costs by 10%. Ideally, this goal should be stated so clearly that someone else could use it to design a meeting that achieved the result.2) Outcome. This describes the benefit of achieving the goal, and thus tells why you are holding the meeting. For example, the benefit of reducing travel costs might be that you will keep spending within budget.3) Activities. This provides a blueprint (or set of instructions) for the meeting. Ideally, this contains descriptions of the group activities that will help you and the participants achieve your goal for the meeting. Support this list with an estimated time budget for each activity.4) Assignments. Tell the participants how to prepare for the meeting (e.g. survey your department for travel costs during the last quarter). Also, tell them what they need to bring (e.g., bring a copy of the budget). Prepared participants make a meeting more efficient and more effective.5) Logistics. Provide basic information on when and where you will hold the meeting. If participants are coming from other offices, be sure to include directions and maps. In general, provide all the information that people need so that they can perform at their best.The small amount of time required to prepare a real agenda will help you hold shorter, more effective meetings.
As both an active project manager and project management trainer, I often get asked whether the "project management" best practices that are applicable for large projects can be applied on smaller projects. This is a really important question and one which all project managers must face up to when managing small projects. Focusing on project delivery One of the arguments against using project management methodologies is that they are very process-centric resulting in vast quantities of project documentation which are simply not practical or desirable on small projects. This is a powerful argument and any method which focuses on producing documentation at the expense of delivering the real business benefits of the project will be a hindrance rather than a benefit. After all, the name of the game in project management is delivering business objectives, not producing reams of documents. There is an ongoing and active discussion within the software development community about the best way to produce software on projects. More recently, some software professionals have argued for more agile methods of producing software rather than the more traditional heavyweight methods which focused on producing vast quantities of documentation. Agile methods focus on delivery of software rather than documentation. With this in mind, I think project managers everywhere can learn something from the agile methods employed in software development. In short, this leads us to focus on project delivery rather than project documentation, although the critical choice project managers everywhere need to make is how much documentation is really necessary? Apply the best practicesI am a firm believer in only producing as much as is required by the project. Nothing more and nothing less. A simple rule of thumb is: if it's useful in helping us to deliver the business objectives of the project then produce it, if it isn't useful in helping us to deliver the business objectives of the project then don't waste time to produce it. With this in mind, I believe that in all projects, at a minimum it is best to apply project management best practices. Lets consider the best practices in turn and see whether or not the overhead lost in applying best practices is worth the benefits which can be gained. Defining objectives and scopeEven on the smallest project there will be objectives which must be achieved. As a project manager, it is in your interest to define what these objectives are since you are likely to be assessed on whether the project meets those objectives. It is your responsibility to ensure the project meets those objectives and you are accountable for this. In short, the book stops with you. Now suppose you don't define and write down what the objectives are, you are always going to be at the mercy of any boss who decides he's got it in for you. The defined and documented set of objectives is your insurance policy against your manager later coming along and saying you didn't meet the objectives. However, there is another reason why you still need to define and document the objectives even on a small project. You want to satisfy the needs of the stakeholders since that is what you are paid to do as a project manager. If the objectives aren't defined, then you won't be able to meet those needs through your project. Similarly with defining the scope. The scope forms the boundary of your project. If you don't define what it is, the likelihood is that it will grow and grow as the project progresses and although you might have started managing a very small project, before long your project could become very much bigger than when you set out. You still need to document who are the stakeholders on a small project as well. By defining who these are, you can ensure that you cover all of their needs when you define the objectives and deliverables. Defining deliverablesSomebody is going to have to carry out the actual work to produce whatever is delivered from your project. Even if the deliverables might be small and don't take much time to produce, they should still be written down. By documenting these things and then having them reviewed by others allows errors to be found. Your aim should be to document a detailed enough set of descriptions of the products to be delivered. These descriptions will then be used by the people who will produce the deliverables. Even if these descriptions take no more than a page of text, it is important to write them in a clear and unambiguous way. If you don't write down a description, it means that the person making the deliverable can interpret what is required in unexpected ways which will only result in work being done later to correct the mistakes. So, always define and document the deliverables. Project planningIf you were to walk up Mount Everest, you would never do it without a considerable amount of planning. Even if you walk up the hill at the back of your house, there is probably some planning involved - what time do you go? What should you take with you? It is the same on even the smallest project where you will still need to work out which activities are required to produce a deliverable, estimate how long the activities will take, work out how many staff and resources are required and assign activities and responsibilities to staff. All of these things need to be written down and communicated effectively to the project team members. I've seen lots of people become unstuck because they think they need to use some kind of project management planning software such as Microsoft Project. This is an unnecessary overhead. I've noticed that people tend to waste too much time making their Microsoft Project Gantt charts look pretty, so that they lose sight of the reason why they are using the tool. Instead, for small projects I find that creating a bar chart in Microsoft Excel is the best. It is simple and more than adequate for small projects. Just make each column a sequential date, write your tasks in the first column, and fill in the cells to represent the time the activity takes. In addition to the bar chart, you will need to document the milestones on the project. Milestones are the dates by which you need to deliver certain things, or may be the date on which a major activity ends. The responsibilities of each project member must also be documented in the project plan. CommunicationEven in the smallest project team comprised of just a project manager and one other person, the project manager will still need to assign tasks and responsibilities to the other person. It can't be assumed that they will know what they should do without it being effectively communicated from the project manager. If the project manager doesn't assign them specific activities, then the chances are they will go ahead and work on things which are not needed by the project. So, either the project will end up delivering the wrong things, or the project will get delayed since time will need to be spent later on doing the activities which should have been done earlier. You can communicate the plans via email, or give a print out of the plan to your project team member(s), or better still, call a meeting and run through the plan with the project team members. Remember, if the plan changes, you will also need to communicate the changes to your team as well. Tracking and reporting progressIf we still consider our two person project team - the project manager and one other person - the project manager will need to know the progress of the activities which the other person is working on. This can be done in a variety of ways: a short daily email detailing the work completed, the work still left to do, and a list of any issues/problems. In most cases this will be sufficient. Alternatively a short 15 minute face to face catch up can accomplish the same thing. Or a combination of the two things might be best. In any event, the project manager still needs to be fully aware of the progress that is being made so that progress can be tracked effectively. Change managementEven on our two person project, changes are likely to occur. Requests for change usually come from stakeholders and it is your responsibility as project manager to assess the impact of accepting these into the project. To do this, you need a good estimate of the impact the change will have in terms of the extra effort and cost involved. This will often impact the schedule as well, so by having a clear understanding of how the schedule and budget will be affected you can make the decision as to whether or not you will accept the change into your project. On a small project there shouldn't be any need for any fancy change control board to decide if the change is accepted. A quick discussion with the key stakeholder(s) should be sufficient for you to come to a decision providing you have worked out the impact on cost and schedule. One thing you should never do is simply accept the change. Even if you think the change is small, you should never accept any change(s) without fully understanding what its impact will be on cost and schedule. That is a recipe for what we call 'scope creep' where the project grows bigger and bigger as more and more changes are added into the project. Before you know it, your small project has become a much larger one and you will inevitably fail to deliver your project to your original budget and schedule. Risk managementThere will be risks even on a small project. Make sure you have thought through all the potential risks at the beginning of the project, monitor the top ten risks each week (or top five if the number of risks is small) and keep looking out for new risks. Failing to manage risk properly is one the main causes for projects to fail. The overhead in managing risks is very low. On a recent project, I drew up a list of what I considered to be all the risks on the project. It came to about 10 risks in all. Of these, five were serious risks. I worked out a plan to avoid or minimise each risk. In all, it took me little over a couple of hours to do this. Then, each week on the project, I would spend say half an hour reviewing all the risks and thinking of any new ones. At the end of the project, whilst some risks actually had materialised, because I'd identified a plan at the start of the project to minimise the impact of these risks, the impact of these risks on the project ended up being minimal. So, with little up front and ongoing effort, you get a big pay back if you manage the risks throughout the project. SummarySo, in summary, applying the best practices to even a small project can be done without creating too much paperwork or overhead. The best practices are the things which countless project managers have done on thousands of projects and are deemed to be the 'best practice' because they tend to help you to achieve the best results. Don't think that because you're managing a small project that you can ditch these best practices because if you do, you will regret it later when your project gets in a mess.
I learned about business expenses at one of my first jobs. It was in a fast food restaurant, working as an assistant manager I was responsible for placing the orders for food and supplies. I noticed how many thousands of dollars we spent on ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauce packets. Then I watched for a while, to see how many the employees were handing out at the drive-through window.Pretty quickly, I realized that many of the employees were putting a handful of packets in the bag for customers - before even asking if they wanted any. It was time for a new policy, I decided. I informed all the employees that they were to ask the customers if they wanted ketchup, mustard or any other sauce packets. Then they were to either ask how many they wanted, or let the customer see them putting just a few in the bag, so the customer could ask for more if they wanted more. The customers were happy, and fewer packets went out that window. How many fewer? I don't remember exactly. What I do remember, is that after tracking our subsequent use of sauce packets, I discovered that the new policy was saving the restaurant about $2,000 per year. I later found a way to rework the schedule to save $15,000 annually on labor costs, while providing better customer service. These "business expenses" add up.It's important to note that money saved is often pure profit. The owners made $15,000 more profit when my new way of scheduling saved them $15,000 in labor costs. To increase profits $15,000 from new sales, they would have needed $60,000 more in sales (after costs, profits are only 25% of sales in this particular business). In other words, finding ways to save money can be a powerful way to increase your profits.One Way To Reduce Your Business ExpensesOf all the "ways to save money" , the first thing to try is to simply list everything that your business spends money on. Include even the toilet paper in your public restroom if you have one. Include everything. Now take each item and consider any possible ways you can spend less on it.Write down the workable ideas and act on them. This is such a simple idea, but how often have you done it? If you have ever done this simple exercise even once in the history of your business, you are probably doing better than most business owners in controlling your business expenses.
Business Plans Are More Essential than Ever As the pace of competition has accelerated, product life cycles have shrunk. It used to take 8 to 10 years to design and build a car. Now it can be in less than a year and half. Windows of opportunity open and close with blinding speed; and customers, who are constantly being wooed by the competition, are more demanding than ever. Some people will advise you that it is impossible to plan for the future and thus business plans are irrelevant and a waste of time. In fact, in this era the exact opposite is true. It is now more important than ever before to have a battle plan during what might, in retrospect, be viewed as "peacetime.. Planning and preparation are required for your financial as well as your company's survival. No one is saying, "The world is more uncertain for you now, so plans are no longer relevant." The truth is that planning and that planning skills are now most important and more vital than ever. In this regard, businesses are no different from individuals. Success in this super competitive era depends on making very clear "business plan" s and statements. Winners develop a vision of where they intend to be going, and this blueprint will allow them the flexibility to respond appropriately when the unexpected occurs... The basics of it all are that by not planning you limit your options and flexibility greatly . WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT Business planning now? Good business plans require different attributes. The networking revolution created by the Web for business-to-business activities and business-to-consumer products and services has offered new opportunities but has created a very different business environment. There are essentially only three central tenets that are a part of business plans: 1.A focus on speed in all of its manifestations 2.The integration of the Web into the core of what the company does 3.A focus on how the company adds value for its customers THE IMPORTANCEOF PLANNING FOR SPEED Planning is the essential element in the competitive battleground, and speed is the central weapon. Like all artillery, speed is an asset when a company is able to employ it in building its own business; it is a liability when an "armed" competitor is moving like lightning to undermine that core business. And whether it's being used for or against you, the ever-present element that must be factored into your plans.There is a great need and reward for Speed. Planning for speed involves an even broader view. To be successful you should take on the widest possible focus on speed and create your businesses accordingly. Build your plans with the following in mind:The speed with which you need to bring a product to marketThe speed with which your competitors might introduce a competitive productThe speed required to improve existing products and bring enhancement (or future generations) of your t product to marketThe speed with which the industry, because of the Internet, could potentially be transformedWhen these factors are fully integrated into a business culture, they lead to a clear way of determining the intensity at which to approach the market: 1). Faster, better, cheaper. . .It's getting repetitive, but if a product is faster, better, or cheaper on the Web, companies need to exploit it immediately 2). Get your feet wet now so that you'll be prepared to swim hardVery soon. Even if your competitors aren't there yet, start exploring what the Net can do for your business 3.)Planned evolution is vital. If you that have the capability to rapidly evolve your products you will find it easier to stay ahead of your e competition, and developing this capability must be a goal of yours in itself. . 6).you cannot waste time being concerned about Cannibalization.Worry about "cannibalization" (creating one product to replace another) assumes that a company owns a market and has time to leave a product in the marketplace until the company is ready to replace it with something new. Smart planners realize that this is an outmoded way of thinking. The new breed of winners in most industries assume that the competition is right at their heels and any competitive advantage they have is fleeting. As a result, they worry about hurting sales of an existing product by bringing out a new one. Be much more concerned with constantly driving to stay ahead of the competition.Some brick-and-mortar companies have found it more difficult than others to let go of the "old way" and are sometimes less nimble than newcomers. To survive, they will need to find ways of eliminating excess baggage. You will be Ahead of the the game . If you recognize the need for online success and can establish your operation, with an independent management style then you that can have the freedom and resources to win in a todays environment. You will certainly be rewarded.. THE IMPORTANCE OF ADDING VALUE Lastly A good business plan should also answer this question: "In the evolving competitive arena, how does my product or service add value?" Focus on this issue and act on your findings and you are most likely to develop successful plans to which the customers remain loyal. This is certainly an integral most basic concept which your Grandmother would of insisted on .
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