Supporting SMEs 2019


by Debbie Dore, Chief executive, Association for Project Management

Industry View from

Setting your SME apart through project management

Whether you’re a start-up, scale-up, challenger or identify as a more traditional small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME), a crucial part of successful long-term growth is knowing and understanding how to plan and implement effectively.


Having the core knowledge, skills and capabilities to manage and direct projects efficiently and professionally can set you apart from competitors when launching a new product or service, changing a key strategy, rolling out new software, embedding industry reforms or onboarding extra staff and departments.


Recent examples where project management could have played a significant part in your business are the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the current Making Tax Digital (MTD) requirement by HMRC. Each would be one of many things fighting for the attention of time-poor CEOs, founders and senior people. Project management techniques could help to keep these initiatives on track, budgeted for effectively and ensure they are a stronger success over time.


Too many companies are overlooking project management when hiring, placing a focus on finance, legal, IT, marketing and HR talent instead. But our own study, carried out with PwC, found that project management contributes £156.5 billion of annual Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy and employs one in 12 workers. This equates to 8 per cent of the UK FTE. Compare this to the marketing sector, which employs 1.5 per cent of UK FTE and contributes £36.5 billion of GVA, and you’ll understand the value in making project management more of a focus – its contribution is enormous.


One must exercise caution though about how companies are too often jeopardising project successes by relying on accidental project managers – employees who may show the right skills in other roles but don’t have the formal knowledge, experience or training to fully manage a scalable, complex or integral project from start to finish. Understandably, it can be tempting to task a successful employee to take on a new project. It’s a tricky balance for SMEs when funding is needed in other areas, but having skilled project professionals at the heart of your organisation increases efficiencies and mitigates losses.


As PwC’s study, The Golden Thread, shows, however, demand for projects to be designed, managed and directed by skilled project managers has now become a fundamental need for organisations, whatever the size. Having the right frameworks, methods and tools, and the right people to use them well, should now be considered a necessity, not a luxury; it is something that should run through the heart of a business.


The importance of project management in an organisation’s role is clear – 40 per cent of those we spoke to for the PwC study predicted a growth in projects and 34 per cent expect project budgets to grow over the next three years. Two out of five respondents now consider project management qualifications to be vital for a candidate’s CV; important to note given a third (32 per cent) cited having access to enough people with the right project management skills and capabilities in the UK a key challenge. It’s clear that there’s much more work to be done to train the next generation of talent.


As technology allows us to transform our small and medium businesses digitally, project management will be needed to deliver efficiencies, scale and growth. Roles will encompass all sorts of skills from budgeting and cost control to planning and monitoring and for SMEs who need to be flexible, reactive and have an aptitude for embracing uncertainty, project management is going to be key.


SMEs with entrepreneurial mindsets are conditioned to try to fail, and to learn from those failures. By using project management techniques, however, they’ll be able to better identify and define what success looks like before starting out. Successes can be further augmented, or failures better understood, through lessons learned on previous projects.


Many smaller companies may be sceptical about project management but, at its strongest, it can and will always adapt to the needs of the industry in which it is being used. It thrives on defining a problem and generating ideas – the core of 21st century start-up and SME thinking – but it has the ability to help you make better evaluation, identify greater and more innovative solutions, and open up a path to seeing the bigger picture. 


Most SMEs focus on those ideals every day, so I urge you to consider the potential for so much further improvement when project management becomes an embedded – rather than an untapped – discipline in your own business.


You can download a free copy of The Golden Thread report here.


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