Why Walk When You Can Run?

The goal for SMEs is clear: fast growth and long-term sustainability. Young companies that are traditionally small and nimble, are also known for an “all day, every day” methodology towards building the business, where getting every little detail and activity right is important from the offset.

However, this methodology, often responsible for initial success, becomes a hindrance as the company grows. As a result, SMEs find they are unable to prioritise like they use to, leading to a more micro-management heavy environment, out of fear of losing control over every aspect of the business.

To avoid this approach project based SMEs must find more transparent, collaborative ways of working to help establish business priorities, achieve overall organisational goals and in turn maximise profit from the revenue generating elements of the business – be they staff, assets or products.

Changing the management model

According to a study by the Chartered Management Institute, three quarters of UK workers waste one and a half working hours a week due to unclear communication from their bosses, a lack of support and ‘micro-management.’

The traditional top-down/ micro-management model has long been in place and tends to create a lack of dialogue between various levels within the company, leaving employees feeling both unacknowledged and disengaged. It’s important to remove these hierarchies and to give employees the autonomy to manage their own work loads. This way, individuals are better positioned to assess priorities, setting and adjusting their own deadlines without the need and added pressure of consistent micro management.

Those closest to the work are those who understand it best and should have a voice in establishing benchmarks and timelines, which in turn creates an atmosphere where team members benefit from ownership and accountability.

Most employees respond well to a little freedom and if they know how to prioritise, they are more likely to track and communication what they are doing and when, giving management a more transparent, direct view of how progress aligns with the overall business goals, removing the need for hierarchy or micro-management.

Working towards the end goal – more efficiently

While helping teams to understand business goals and prioritise workloads is one challenge, keeping them working to the right priorities and overall business goal(s) takes a concerted effort.

Once goals and priorities have been established, managers can also help their teams to prioritise and manage multiple client requirements, by centralising inbound requests through a “request” queue. In many organisations, inbound requests are often made directly to the person or team(s) who typically do the work.

For example, if someone needs a brochure for an upcoming customer event, they might directly approach one of the graphic designers — or if the development team needs a new server for a special project, that request might go directly to a friend in the IT department to fulfil their request.

Although that particular internal client may get what they need at that time, they are hampering the ability of that internal service group to consistently deliver to the organisation, obscuring any real visibility needed by department leaders into what their teams are doing.

By centralising inbound requests, requestors can track the status of their requests, teams can better define what they need before work begins and workflows such as approvals and work breakdown can be defined, and (where possible), automated making it possible for individual knowledge workers to keep focused on the right work without the need for consistent micro-management.

Workers should also be able to discuss workloads with managers when priority requests are placed in the request queue. This dialogue will help staff to understand which piece of work to complete first, if multiple priority requests are queued.

The importance of real – time visibility

Using the right technology and tools to help teams prioritise workloads will also give management the real-time visibility into activity versus servicing levels and whether projects (small or large) will be completed on budget and on time.

This information is vital to inform business critical decisions such as whether the company needs more resource to grow, or how the company can scale using the same resource, thereby maximising revenue. Research shows that if a company operates a 100-man business and is able to capture and bill just one extra billable hour per month from each employee, it can boost the bottom line by £115,000 a year.

The benefits of visibility do not stop at better resource management. With clear, real-time insight into how a project is run on a daily basis, management is able to identify inefficient processes and unnecessary admin work and fix these problems immediately – a valuable but necessary skill to master for growing SMEs.

This frees up staff time in the long run, enabling the business to do more with the same team and give staff the time needed to identify and seize new business opportunities as and when they appear.

Agility is the key to growth

SMEs lead by micro-management values risk being left behind, as a new breed of companies who value the dynamic nature of a more collaborative management model, will benefit from a more autonomous and engaged workforce and a transparent overview of work flow against business goals.

Implementing a more collaborative work management environment will enable growing SMEs to efficiently prioritise and maximise on revenue streams, leaving senior management room to seize on opportunities to grow the business.

Without this approach, project based SMEs are in danger of lacking the transparency and information senior management needs to make these critical business growth decisions, whilst balancing the risk of working with an unmotivated, inefficient work force.

Trevor Ward, EMEA General Manager of AtTask, the project and work management specialists.