We_Can_Do_It!

Let’s face it: 2016 has been a volatile year in terms of the cultural, economic, and political landscape. All across the globe, events are happening that have the potential to rock the foundations of many economies. For instance, will your business be (or has it already been) impacted by any of the following:

  • The Brexit vote, which rattled stock prices in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the EU?
  • The US presidential election, pitting two of the most controversial candidates in history against each other in one of the most divisive elections this country has ever seen?
  • The ongoing recovery of the United States from the 2008 recession?

That last event occurred eight years ago – and 93% of counties in this country are still feeling the effects. Like a geographical event, such as an earthquake, can scar the physical landscape permanently, big changes in the global politico-economic landscape can have lasting and even permanent effects on business as usual. So how will you make sure your company withstands the test of time?

I know you’ve heard the old adage, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” No, you can’t plan for every contingency; but you can (and need to) learn from past successes and failures, because those will help you to be better prepared for the future. Making a business plan is not enough – sticking to it, managing current projects prudently and understanding your actual costs involved are necessary.

Building a business plan for success

Make your project goals S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound). This topic has been talked to death, so I won’t bore you with too much detail on the concept. In terms of project planning, make sure you are specifying who is doing a task. Don’t leave in place-holder names for long, assign a person to the task – and once you have done so, put their name in the plan.

Make your plan time-bound by understanding how much time it actually takes and updating it. Use past experience and ask whoever you assigned to work on the task again how much time it will take to complete it after they have already started working on it. Updating your project plan as time goes on achieves two things: keeping the project on-track, and keeping it realistic. It allows you to check on progress and make sure things are going according to plan.

Keep your project profitable

It is so easy for large projects to get out of control, but when you’re tracking project time and resources, you can prevent this from happening. If you accurately track your time and understand who is actually completing the tasks, you help keep the project on-time and on-budget. When you understand your true project costs, you’ll also be able to measure the ROI of your projects. What do you really have the time and money for? Is it worth it?

Just focusing on whether or not your project is worth it is not enough. Are your customers profitable too? Sometimes you have to fire a customer if their demands become too expensive. You may have convinced yourself of another old saying, “the customer is always right” – but it’s not true. The customer is not always right and there is such a thing as a bad customer, especially when keeping them around eats into your profits.

Take Risks

It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but being too safe will get you nowhere. Here comes another saying, from author John A. Shedd: “A ship in the harbor is safe- but that is not what ships are built for.”

Make sure you are continuously innovating so that you stay at the head of the pack amongst your competitors. It is so easy to fall into the pattern of only undertaking safe projects and sticking with the same trends over and over; but doing so will never allow you to grow. You can make your risks more safe by analyzing past data (properly tracking time, annoying though it can be, makes this much easier). Wild risks are dangerous, but educated ones are much more stable.

Focus your efforts to understand what is actually happening with your projects. Keep them from getting out of control so that you stay profitable and can afford to take risks that will pay off in the future. Figure out what you have done wrong and done right, and use it to fix current projects and plan for the future. Doing so will help you survive in these volatile economic and political times.