Mismanaged projects are destined to fail and reduce business revenue. For every $1 billion invested in projects in the U.S., a whopping $122 million is wasted by failing to manage projects efficiently.

To avoid wasting this kind of money on your projects, you must start by understanding the reasons for project failure. Some of the top reasons for project failure are:

  • Forty-one percent of respondents believe teams fail because of their inability to keep pace with changing organizational priorities.
  • Thirty-eight percent feel they don’t understand project objectives, and 31 percent feel that the projects fail because they’re executed without a clear vision and goals.
  • Thirty-seven percent feel that the organization can’t accurately define project requirements to its employees, which results in project failures.

To face these challenges head on, businesses should let go of the traditional project management methodologies of calculating and planning project scope, time, and cost. Instead, they should adopt newer, more advanced technologies that allow greater agility among teams, workstream collaboration, team communication, and task automation.

Small business project managers should start by adopting “must-have” technology now. And, they should prepare to adopt “mature” and “transformational” technology in the future, so that they avoid project and business failures.

However, adopting new and disruptive technologies comes with its own challenges as small businesses must be able to differentiate between the “must-have,” “mature,” and “transformational” technologies. In this article, we’ll help you understand these differences so that you can choose the right tools to successfully manage projects and avoid business failures.

Here’s an overview of key project management technologies for small businesses:

Project management technologies

Infographic based on three critical stages

Let’s look at these technologies in detail:

Earned Value Management

Earned value management: Boost agility to manage budget and timelines

Earned value management (EVM) is a project management and feedback method that tracks project costs and schedules. It offers a comparative view of the project’s original scope and budget against the plans and projections. The three important project management metrics compared in EVM are:

  • Planned value: The planned cumulative value to be earned by a specific point in the project timeline.
  • Earned value: This denotes what the project has accomplished to date.
  • Actual cost: The money spent on earning a certain amount of value out of the project.

Project managers can compare the planned value with earned value to gauge whether the project is on schedule. Comparing earned value and actual cost shows whether the project is within budget. And, comparing the project cost with the schedule helps managers foresee and mitigate project management risks, so that they can boost project performance.

Why is EVM a must-have project management technology for small businesses?

EVM goes beyond traditional project portfolio management tools that provide a high-level perspective of all the projects in an organization. It offers a complete analysis of all three elements in a project: scope, schedule, and cost.

This technology helps you understand the amount of work completed using given funds, as well as the funds and time required to complete the project. It determines benchmark achievements, provides early warnings of performance troubles, and helps forecast future project performance plans.

For instance, independent field service agents or owners of small business construction firms can ensure accountability and visibility by comparing completed and pending work. They can also see the actual spend on construction versus foreseeable spend. If the actual cost and schedule differ, they can adjust the workflow and plan accordingly.

Key business challenges addressed

  • Absence of project forecasting: Often, small business managers lack the tools to compare the exact project status (i.e., the project’s resources, time, and scope) with the projected/desired status in the project life cycle. EVM helps efficiently plan and allocate resources to avoid any lags.
  • Lack of a centralized tool: Informing stakeholders about changes in project cost and status consistently and efficiently isn’t easy. EVM centralizes the flow of information so that the stakeholders know the crucial project details. This also helps SMBs focus on generating ideas,
    testing solutions, and solving issues with everyone onboard.
  • Inability to control scope creep: Because they have fewer resources, small businesses can lack maturity in project planning and budgeting. An EVM tool will keep them informed about project challenges and budget allocations, ensuring that the business is highly agile and less prone to failures or overspend.

Benefits of using earned value management tools

  • Integrated product-oriented work process: These tools help small businesses plan their project process better. They provide an overview of product-oriented work, scheduling, and costs so that users can eliminate risks and improve their product quality.
  • Centralized data management: EVM centralizes data reporting and management, making it faster, less error-prone, and more consistent compared to manual methods. Small businesses can also merge their historical project data with current data for accurate project analysis.
  • Quick detection of any variance: The tools can detect cost and schedule variances early in a project life cycle. This helps businesses address performance deviance, boost productivity, and meet their financial goals.
  • Better documentation: Your team can easily share, communicate, and attach project photos, drawings, and plans as EVM tools centralize the documentation process.

Potential issues to look out for

  • Benefits aren’t universal: EVM tools may not benefit all project types, especially research-based projects that lack a clearly defined scope or timeline, projects that need sustained maintenance efforts, multiyear projects with no completion dates, or projects that haven’t defined the level of effort needed.
  • No benefits if data isn’t current: An EVM system is beneficial only if the data is up-to-date. For instance, you need the latest accounting data to know the actual costs. If the data is outdated, the tool will generate inaccurate performance reports that will reflect poorly on project performance.

Recommended actions

  • Use a decision matrix analysis: Evaluate your specific needs with a decision matrix analysis (i.e., analyze different options based on important criteria). You can do this on your own or with the help of a consultant/vendor. For instance, the EVM tool’s scheduling engine may have a built-in feature to record risks in project activities, while its cost engine can help you calculate foreign currency.
  • Choose between best-of-breed or stand-alone tools: There are pros and cons to selecting a single vendor or choosing various vendors—for example, one for project management and another for budgeting or time tracking—that offer integrations. Ask vendors about their upfront (one-time) and ongoing costs, so that you can accurately plan your budget.
  • Opt for scalability and mobility: Choose a cloud-based tool that offers different pricing tiers so you can scale up with the tool as the business grows. The ability to access the tool anytime, from anywhere will ensure business continuity.
  • Ensure ease of use: Introducing both a new concept and a new tool can lead to change fatigue, so keep the learning curve and implementation time for new software short. Choose a solution that’s intuitive so your employees can learn the tool while using it. Use free trials and demos to be able to get hands-on experience with the tool and leverage user reviews to find a user-friendly solution.

Workstream collaboration

Workstream collaboration: Boost performance and productivity

Workstream collaboration tools help improve team coordination and communication, which in turn, boosts employee performance and productivity.

These tools replace and reduce the use of email with individual or group audio/video calling and chat. Users can collaborate via file sharing and real-time editing with document and version control on mobile or desktop devices.

Why is workstream collaboration a mature project management technology for small businesses?

Though this technology is offered by many vendors already, it will enhance project management tools even more in the next two to five years and become mainstream by 2020.

Though in the early stages of adoption, teams spread across geographies and time zones are opting for it, as it breaks down the silos between departments by ensuring greater transparency into workflows and project status.

Workstream collaboration is also being adopted by customer-facing teams that have to share expertise on customer behavior and sentiments, so that they handle customer queries better.

Key business challenges addressed

  • Absence of streamlined workflows: Small businesses, especially advertising and marketing agencies, don’t always have well-structured workflows. Inability to handle and streamline ad hoc work affects productivity and overall resource optimization. It could also disengage employees, which can lead to attrition.
  • Lack of a single tool for collaboration and communication: Without a single tool, businesses find it tough to collaborate on ideas and communicate across teams. As a result, they’re unable to build an open, collaborative culture.
  • Inability to centralize data: Storing data in various databases could result in data loss. Without a central database to archive conversations, documents, and emails, businesses won’t be able to analyze previous customer interactions or internal communication for insights.
  • Inability to automate: Small businesses rely on manual processes more than automated workflows, which can be set up using workstream collaboration tools to save resources and time.
  • Lack of resources: Small businesses don’t have as much to invest in tools, infrastructure, or their workforce. Workstream collaboration tools support remote work, collaboration, and communication so that you don’t have to spend a lot on office space or hardware.

Benefits of using workstream collaboration

  • Remote project management: The tools help teams collaborate remotely, while project managers can handle workflows virtually. The task management, deadline tracking, and audio and video calling features allow remotely managing and collaborating on projects. These tools eliminate brick-and-mortar infrastructure costs and reduce the volume of update emails or meetings.
  • Cross-functional collaboration, teamwork: Standardized task management templates can unify diverse working styles, methodologies, and practices for global collaboration. Teams can share information, ideate, share insights, and have unified communication to be more agile with project management.
  • Project success tied to employee contribution: Projects succeed when team members know that their work affects organizational goals. Using standardized work plans and assignments, project managers can keep employees connected to the overall project flows, deadlines, deliverables, and goals.
  • Faster new employee training: Workstream collaboration technology helps small businesses store all data and conversations in a centralized space. This helps new employees gain quick access to the projects and documents they need because they’re able to leverage the shared expertise more efficiently.

Potential issues to look out for

  • Loss of autonomy: While workstream collaboration offers employees an ability to work remotely, it takes away autonomy by distributing the authority and increasing the number of stakeholders.
  • Overuse of technology: Not all interactions need to occur online. Workstream collaboration could reduce real-time physical interactions, adversely affecting employee interactions and team bonding.

Recommended actions

  • Understand your team’s work styles and requirements: Before investing in workstream technology, learn the differences in your teams’ work styles. One team may be more adept at virtual work and need video and audio conferencing. Another may need security and compliance features for data loss protection. Choose applications that support the work styles and requirements of the intended team.
  • Assess work scenarios: Small businesses should run an audit and identify specific team-driven work scenarios that will benefit from workstream collaboration tools. This will help your team transition to the new tools and drive adoption.
  • Identify opportunities and collect feedback: Collect feedback from teams that already use collaboration software to push for workstream collaboration software. This will help you address specific challenges in project management that generic collaboration software can’t address. Feedback from your teams will also improve the tool for future users.

PM bots

Project management bots: Automate and speed up processes

Bots perform simple, complex and structurally repetitive tasks more quickly than humans. Project management bots automate processes such as scheduling tasks, evaluating costs, determining risks, and balancing resources.

They offer a host of probable solutions, risk mitigation ideas based on past projects, information about the work to be done, and project burndown tracking. These tasks ensure easier collaboration, time management, and project management.

Why are project management bots a transformational project management technology for small businesses?

These bots can transform workflows, such as integrating with workstream collaboration tools to track progress, freeing up project managers for other strategic work. In Slack, for example, bots are programmatically controlled and monitor project-based channel activity. They identify triggers and events, offering recommendations on actions to be taken.

Project management bots will be even more disruptive when combined with predictive technologies. It will add a whole new dimension to project management, with the ability to foresee lags between project delivery time and resource availability based on previous patterns.

Small businesses should wait to adopt this tech in the medium to long term because the capabilities are not fully fleshed out yet, and not all affordable vendors are offering it for SMBs at this point. However, when it is ready, users will be able to easily create their own bots with a drag-and-drop design and no need for professional programmers.

Key business challenges addressed

  • Lack of automation: Small businesses don’t always automate routine tasks, resulting in resource and time loss, which affects overall productivity. PM bots can address these challenges and speed up your business processes.
  • Data inaccuracies and lack of centralized database: Manual data collection processes pose various challenges such as data inaccuracy and unavailability of adequate data at the right time. Without an organized and centralized database, you can’t improve your business processes. PM bots can solve these challenges, as they automate accurate data collection to generate business insights.

Benefits of using project management bots

  • Ease of collaboration: A bot simplifies collaboration by performing tasks that help different teams stay in sync with each other. For example, it can match team schedules, organize meetings, book meeting rooms and find alternative meeting slots in case of cancellations.
  • Efficient data handling: Bots can provide error-free status reports, analyze large data sets, and execute tasks that help you make crucial business decisions.
  • Ease of staying up-to-date: Project management bots streamline workflows by scheduling and assigning work. They can also send notifications and reminders to team members so that they don’t miss any deadlines.

Potential issues to look out for

  • Lack of knowledge: As bots are an emerging technology, you should thoroughly research how to efficiently use them. Start by identifying your specific project management challenges that can be solved by using PM bots.
  • Compromise on security: Chatbots analyze data using NLP (natural language processing) and deep learning algorithms. However, the data isn’t usually encrypted, putting users at risk of getting hacked. Also, you can’t always be sure that testing and security reviews are enough to ensure that a hacker isn’t listening in to your bot conversations.
  • Overdependence on technology: Bots automate tasks and speed up processes. However, there’s a risk of overdependence that could impede personal capabilities in the long run. Users also need to keep in mind that bots are coded manually and may not be a 100 percent reliable.

Recommended actions

  • Clarify the objective: Project management bots can help you perform many tasks, from issue tracking to task management to scheduling. Evaluate the functions most in need of improvement so you can customize the bots for your small business.
  • Plan for the future and consider ROI: Invest in a project management tool that allows you to integrate PM bots with simple drag-and-drop design in the future when your small business is ready to deploy PM bots. This will help you reduce training costs when you move forward with bot adoption.
  • Run tests: Test bots based on productivity and security. Small businesses have an edge over enterprises when it comes to running tests and collecting feedback due to the smaller number of stakeholders involved.

Next steps and additional resources

The technologies discussed in this article can possibly transform project management for your small business in the short and long term.

Here are some immediate steps you can take to ease the adoption of these technologies in your organization:

Steps to smooth over project management technology adoption

The graphic shows the process of adopting key project management technologies that are categorized and described below:

  1. Must-have technology is a widely used solution that small businesses should consider adopting for their critical business functions.
  2. Mature technology should be considered in the short to medium term, when the needs of your small business increase and become more complex as the business grows.
  3. Transformational technology, such as the project management (PM) bots mentioned above, is still in its nascent stages; it offers small businesses the best returns in the medium to long run.

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