Each year, hundreds of millions of entrepreneurs across the world invest time, effort and resources in starting new businesses in the hope of seeing them succeed. However, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s most recent data reports that more than 16 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa discontinued their business in the past year, with 29 percent reporting that this was due to problems getting finance, or the business not being profitable.
While each business faces its own unique challenges, there are several common causes of failure, often revolving around the lack of employees professionally trained with project-management skills, especially at leadership levels. It is becoming clear that in order to survive and thrive in today’s fast-paced economy, entrepreneurs need to think and act like project managers.
It’s no longer enough to have the big idea, a solid business plan and access to capital; entrepreneurs need to adapt quickly to the new demands expected of them and execute the idea before someone else does. Big or small, start-up teams should have the right people with project-management experience – in methodology, strategy, risk-management and communication skills, among others –to get the business closer to its goals faster and more efficiently.
Entrepreneurship is the heartbeat of the African business environment and is considered by many to be the foundation of any meaningful strategy for the continent’s fledgling economies. By definition, entrepreneurs often juggle various roles and are faced with numerous challenges, including time, resource and budget limitations – while also considering the expectations of stakeholders and investors who often require justification for risky and complex activities. Entrepreneurs are also expected to facilitate communication and resolve issues among the people who work for them while ensuring employees deliver predetermined activities with timelines, fixed budgets, deadlines and clear deliverables. Sound knowledge and adoption of good project-management principles can help leaders focus on projects that help the business run while learning how to adapt to change.
To remain relevant, companies and organisations have to change, and start-ups can often manage this more easily than others because of their flexible approach to business. However, entrepreneurs need to be cautious when evolving, and temper their proclivity for risk-taking. When a start-up’s leadership allows change to occur without putting the right processes and structures in place, the business is likely to flounder. Project management, although often associated with risk management and the instituting of processes and procedures, can help entrepreneurs strike a balance that facilitates business growth while preparing them to answer to stakeholders and investors.
As bottom lines continue to grow, start-ups must figure out how to support the growth. Project management can help provide structure for businesses as they expand. For example, if a start-up commences operations with five employees but expects to grow this number within one year, how precisely will it take place? At what stage of the evolution of the business will the new employees be hired? Will all of the employees require the same skills? Will they need training? Similar questions permeate the various facets of each business, from accounting to sales and marketing. Business owners with expertise in project management would be better positioned to understand project dependencies, prioritise activities, and recognise the influence of potential delays on future operations.
With so many issues to address and many of them interdependent, it is apparent that in order for start-ups to survive and thrive, they need to be backed by entrepreneurs with strong project-management skills. The University of Roehampton, London Online’s MSc in Project Management is designed to equip leaders and professionals from start-ups as well as aspiring entrepreneurs with critical skills such as how to plan and monitor business projects efficiently and maintain cohesion among stakeholders, as well as how to organise, schedule and delegate tasks better. Participants in the programme are taught how to ensure projects are on track, as well as how to take corrective action to deliver real business results within budget and projected timeframes that can contribute to boosting their company’s reputation and improving growth forecasts. Entrepreneurs enrolled on the online programme with businesses that are already operational have the advantage of instantly applying best practices and real-life insights from faculty members and colleagues from around the world.
Regardless of their size or stage of success, all start-ups can benefit from incorporating sound project-management practices in their operations. Not only can these tools facilitate the successful delivery of projects toward the accomplishment of overall organisational goals; they can also help entrepreneurs deal effectively with processes that are crucial for growth. A deeper understanding of project management can ultimately help fledgling organisations bridge gaps in strategy and execution as well as boost their odds of growing quickly and successfully.
Dr Peter Atorough is an author, consultant and business coach specialising in project management, supply chain and operations management.
Dr Peter Atorough