Strategy for success

In the last post, we wondered whether a small business or a consultant with limited resources and immature processes could compete with large enterprises having greater resources and well-defined processes for large projects. Unsurprisingly, a small business could use strategies derived from its greatest strengths such as niche expertise, faster decision making, and flexibility. Oftentimes, these intrinsic advantages allow small businesses to achieve more with less while maintaining greater intimacy with external stakeholders than larger companies.

Niche expertise

Expert Trail Almost always, a consultant’s prowess would be the deciding factor for their success. In order to be successful, a small business or a consultant usually offers expertise in a specific field where their experience and knowledge gives them a distinct advantage over their competitors. For example, the company I am currently with can deliver new versions of feature-rich pharmacy management product in short iterations because it is led by a 30 year industry professional who has unparalleled expertise in delivering Pharmanet software in British Columbia. Moreover, we are supported by pharmacists who advise us and provide their industry-specific perspective.

As another example, many large Electronic Medical Records projects are successfully completed by small healthcare professional-driven businesses employing expert analysts with many years of experience in HL7 and medical records. In EMR projects, external stakeholders are often other healthcare professionals. Thus, having an industry expert at the helm enhances that company’s credibility and allows the business find better solutions for that industry’s knowledge domain-specific problems.

Flexibility and faster decision making

In large companies, especially with a strong functional organization, a project manager is often limited in how much they are able to do. Additional resources are negotiated with functional managers, and, oftentimes, the project lead does not have control over the project budget. Decisions, such as important change requests that affect scope and budget, are often beyond project manager’s control, thus slowing and predetermining the responses to these changes.

On the other hand, a consultant usually has full control over their small business resources and can offer options to external stakeholders which are sometimes not possible in a large business. For instance, a project lead in control of their company can allow their customer to increase scope while increasing project budget in an execution phase of the project. While traditionally, allowing scope creep is a bad practice, in certain cases the scope changes are inevitable, especially when driven by external factors.

For example, if the aforementioned consultant is executing a project which delivers software that must pass government compliance testing, then a major change in compliance requirements could involve a significant re-make of software features and increased scope. In such case, an expert self-employed project lead could relatively quickly evaluate these changes and make an appropriate decision without having to wait for an approval from senior management, while enhancing their relationship with the customer. If Titanic is a yacht rather than a cruiseship, it could easily change course and avoid the iceberg.

Finally, in the previous article, I implied that larger projects are done by larger teams. This is not always true. Quite often, a large project can be achieved with a relatively small team, given that the team consists of industry experts. Businesses employing smaller, expert-based teams also have an advantage because less communication channels exist between team members. Less channels means simpler and more complete control of all project communication. Smaller size of the team also helps the integrity of the original message and reduces the risk of “broken telephone”. Thus, the smaller team implies simpler and more flexible communication planning.

Process aids expertise

So, can we conclude that a self-employed consultant can compete with a large business for a large project? The answer is a frustrating maybe. Situationally, if the project is fully within the domain knowledge of that consultant, then their chances of success are significantly higher. On the other hand, larger projects involving several knowledge domains are probably better handled by larger organizations with available resources in every necessary area of expertise.

In any case, larger projects require significant project management knowledge, regardless of the business size. This knowledge allows a project manager to plan their projects better and mitigate risk. For example, I mentioned above how a small business can better react to changing government compliance requirements during the execution phase of a project. However, this advantage is nullified by better planning. Changing government requirements is a risk which can be foreseen by an experienced project leader. While planning a project, the expert project manager would establish a contingency budget reserve to deal with such changes, thus eliminating the need for improvisation on the fly. Thus, even a small business should strive to increase their process knowledge if they want to grow and take on big projects.

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