My company, Journyx, has been around for sixteen years now and during that time, we have weathered one of the biggest economic downturns in history, the emergence of the simultaneously exciting and terrifying social media sphere, and major transitions in how software is purchased and delivered. However, we were not always so hardy.
In the beginning we came close to absolute failure a couple of times. It had nothing to do with our product; customers found it delivered on its promised functionality and then some. It also didn’t have to do with our team, or any shoddy internal politics.
The reason I’m telling you this back story is because there’s a lesson to be learned here: we did not have a clear vision of our pipeline and cash flow. We had difficulty predicting how much cash we would have in the bank several weeks in the future. It was a serious problem and, unfortunately, a common one. Perhaps even one you’ve experienced in your company.
It is easy, particularly for small businesses and startups, to focus on the excitement of the here and now. The future is an abstract concept for enterprise-level businesses, until it isn’t. You have to focus on growth from the beginning. Success is not a pipe dream, but paradoxically it can destroy you if you aren’t prepared for it.
We were not the first company to face periods of growth we were not able to handle and we won’t be the last. Fortunately, it is simple to implement a system that allows for intelligent forecasting.
Following are five steps you can take to make sure your business doesn’t face the same problems:
1. Track Projects Individually
Tracking employee time spent on projects is great, but you will reap maximum benefit when you track each project separately. This allows you to view each project as a unique element in company profitability. This insight is incredibly valuable when allocating resources because you will know the parameters for each project relative to the current availability of the company.
2. Monitor Employee Tasks and Changes in Productivity
In any organization, the benefits of knowing what your employees are doing at any given point are obvious: you want them working on tasks that are actually beneficial to the company. But it’s also important to consider which jobs they are most effective at. Implementing a system that allows employees to track time against specific tasks will allow you to see where they are most useful. Odds are that’s what they enjoy doing best. No need to change employee job roles every day, but do consider a change when the evidence suggests that they’ve honed skills in a new area and could be of more use elsewhere.
3. Build a Database of Prior Projects
Having a backlog of your projects will be incredibly valuable, though it takes some time to build. With this information, you can determine how many people it normally takes to finish a project; improve accuracy of your budgets based on scope; and perfect timelines based on overall project parameters. Even the least efficient projects become valuable because you can glean just as much information from them. You will know what did not work, what factors caused you to go over budget, and learn from the mistakes.
4. Always Know Your Available Resources
A critical piece of any project plan is creating your team. This task is easier when you know exactly who is available (with the skills you need), and what their schedule will be for the duration of the project. If you have an automated project management system, employee schedules are readily apparent and any requests for leave will be noted. You will also know the tasks that other employees are working on so you can avoid stretching resources too thin or allocating an individual to tasks for which they aren’t well suited.
5. Constantly Monitor Resource Use Relative to Budget and Schedule
If you compare time and resources spent on a project versus percentage complete, you can see which projects are absorbing too many resources to remain profitable. This allows you to redistribute assets to projects as necessary or even kill projects that are too far gone to benefit your company. It is always better to determine issues early on, and a dynamic tracking system provides that insight. Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and move on; costs can quickly spiral out of control, causing your situation to worsen.
While it is possible to keep track of these systems using basic business programs (we used Excel and QuickBooks early on), automated, programmable systems will greatly reduce cataloguing time and errors. Whatever method you choose to use, start ASAP if you haven’t already. Growth should be a cause of excitement, not concern.