Among the many perks of running your own business is the freedom to work on your own schedule, at your own pace, where you want and how you choose. However, ask any online entrepreneur, and he or she will likely never get back to you.
No time. Too busy.
Even if your business is confined to cyberspace, your roles and responsibilities as proprietor probably include everything from accounting to sales, marketing to distribution, human resources to ace psychologist. You do it all; how could you possibly have time to design a better website, build a more functional web store or develop more engaging interactive campaigns?
If your financial budget is limited – even zero – there’s hope in the basics of project management. In particular, a quick lesson in the concept of scope might turn the seemingly unachievable into your first online sale.
For those who didn’t ask themselves why they would ever need a primer or refresher course on the basic principles of project management, we have some great news. Employing basic project management principles in your next ecommerce venture will not only save you time, it will save you money – even if you decide to hire some help.
Pareto’s Principle or the “80/20 Rule”
Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) postulated that 80 percent of a nation’s wealth was controlled by 20 percent of its people. In turn, Pareto suggested that 20% of a population directly affects 80% of a country’s economic fortune. That theory was found to be appropriate for time concepts, in addition to financial concepts. Hence, Pareto coined what we commonly call the 80/20 rule, which states that 20 percent of what we do is what could be called high-priority work. As you might have guessed by now, Pareto would suggest that one spend 80 percent of his or her time on that 20 percent of work.
Scope: failing to define is asinine
Let’s presume that you’re the owner of a successful brick-and-mortar store. Perhaps you sell holiday knick-knacks with a specialty for allthings- Halloween. While the holiday of tricks and treats doesn’t happen until Oct. 31, the season is still a couple months long. If building a Web store is going to be a worthwhile venture for you in 2005, you should probably have a store ready to roll by Sept. 1.
For the sake of planning, let’s presume that today is August 1. You have one month, a timeframe likely leading you to the medicine cabinet in search of your preferred anti-inflammatory headache medicine. However, by doing nothing more than defining your project scope, and managing it, you’ll not only be putting your 80 percent toward the most vital 20 percent imaginable in the ecommerce project world, you might also have a live site sooner than you think.
Project scope simply refers to the size of the project in terms of what will be included and what will not. For the purpose of building a website for our imaginary online Halloween-goods business, let’s say that our project scope will include:
- A website design
- 5 pages of content
- 1 contact-us form
- A web store
Now that we know the scope of our ambitious one-month project, in terms of what will be included and the time we have to complete it, you should brainstorm a list of things outside the scope of this project – the inclusion of these things (or anything else) outside the scope of your project would constitute what’s called scope creep. Let’s say that our project scope will not include:
- Anything stored in a database
- Multimedia like video or Flash
- Automatic shipping/distribution ability
Our project definition is now more clearly defined. The site’s content will be static, and its design will be pretty basic as well without the inclusion of multimedia elements. Furthermore, we’ve just limited the capabilities of any web store without a means for distributing products immediately. Our analysis suggests that one month’s time is probably not enough to build a fully functional Web store, just something with some products and a way for customers to pick what they want and contact the store owner.
Managing your resources might not be as difficult as you first thought considering you already own Adobe Photoshop, an HTML editor and plan to do the work yourself. Not a problem. It was pretty clear from the initial definition of this project’s scope that your primary project constraint was time. A project’s constraints are nothing more than the parameters for achieving what you want to achieve.
You don’t have a soul besides yourself in terms of resources. You don’t have a lot of money. However, you absolutely must have this store live by Sept. 1. It’s not the most scientific analysis in the world, but determining the single-most important aspect of your project is the surest way to define a project’s primary constraint. Project constraints are interdependent as well, meaning that – typically – the less time allotted for a given project, the more it will cost both in terms of human resources (resources can include things like materials and buildings) and money.
Take a risk
Are you one of those folks who always start something but rarely seems to finish it? Whether it is a good book or an ecommerce project, you’ll want to assess your project’s risks for failure up front.
Don’t fall victim to the power of positive thinking: Defining what constitutes a risk for project failure before beginning your work will help you to avoid it. In our hypothetical situation, let’s establish the following as project risks:
- Don’t have the time I thought I’d have to work on the site.
- Don’t have the ability I thought I did.
- An emergency happens between now and a month from now.
Include even the craziest risks:
- My computer crashes, trashing everything I had worked on.
- A rainstorm floods my inventory, rendering it useless.
Once you have this set of project risks established, provide an antidote for each. That might include setting aside pockets of time each day and on the weekend to work on your project. It also might include hiring some inexpensive but talented cyber-teen to help you with some of the more difficult aspects of site building. More than likely, one antidote will be to backup your project files daily and buying some flood insurance.
Put plans on paper
It seems like common sense. To execute a project successfully, you need to know what you’ll do, what you’ll not do and what could cause the whole thing to fall apart. However, putting these plans to paper in the form of a formal project scope provide you the highest potential for success. There’s more to project management than defining and managing scope, such as establishing a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), developing a schedule and actually doing the work.
However, none of these are valuable without clear project scope definition and management. Nail this concept, and you might be able to spend that other 20% of your time counting money once your web store starts to rake in sales.