There has been a great deal of emphasis on entrepreneurship and the need for more and more entrepreneurs in the region to help create jobs for the future of the region. There is also a lot of enthusiasm and encouragement for new entrepreneurs – but are we forgetting something? It is great to have the “spirit” but is spirit enough? Do our prospective entrepreneurs know how to take their dreams from the idea into effective operation? Is business planning emphasized or is it enough? This article will offer an opinion and try to answer these questions and offer a suggestion on what is missing. It is the author’s opinion that Project Management is the missing link that could make the crucial difference between success, challenge, and even failure.
The Need for Entrepreneurs
Various sources and global studies show that small & medium organizations/enterprises (SMO/SMEs) have huge contributions to economies around the world in terms of gross national product and employment. Studies in the Middle East show that SME contributions in our region are lower than in developed countries. However, many in the government and private sector leadership recognize the need to change this in order to deal with the tremendous challenge of the need for job creation across the Arab World.
All of private or government initiatives share in playing a role to promote the “spirit of entrepreneurship,” but is the spirit the only thing that we need? What is missing? Let us say someone quit his/her job to become an entrepreneur, then what?
There are too many challenges facing an entrepreneur today – some of it is legal structure and regulations. Other challenges are related to the fear of failure and the stigma associated with that. Even if we overcome the fear of failure we will encounter the challenge of the availability of capital. With capital resolved or at least somewhat resolved, do we have the right infrastructure to help the entrepreneur launch the business? Do we have the necessary support? How about beyond the launch? The support that is available (business/cash/logistics/management / etc.) is available for someone following a dream, but only to realize that realizing the dream is much more challenging than expected. How do we help the entrepreneur or the small business owner sustain and grow?
Most, if not all, venture capital, foundation, and other sources for funds — in addition to business schools and MBA programs focus on a business plan as an essential deliverable/requirement to seek funds or start a business. Here we ask once again: Is the business plan enough? It is our view that a ‘traditional’ business plan is not enough. Quite a few business plans, that we call ‘traditional’, focus on the business aspects with a heavier focus on the operation of the business. The question is: Do these traditional business plans provide a proper focus on the venture (most call a “project”) from idea to launch of the business?
The Missing Link
It is interesting to point out that many call a new venture a “project”, as we mentioned in the earlier section. We like the word “project,” but most definitions of the word “project” mean something that is temporary. So is the venture temporary? We hope not! So is the word ‘project’ the wrong one to use? Yes and No. The business is not a project; it is a business, a venture. So to be academic, the word “project” is not the proper one to use for the new business. Let us call it venture or business. Yet to launch the business is exactly what we call a project – the launch project is to take the venture from the idea to operations. Our objective here is not to get into an English lesson; rather we aim to define the proper use of words in order to have the proper context and fully understand the missing link. So what is this missing link? Well if launching the business is a project, then how do we manage it? Where is Project Management in managing the launch? The next section will provide a methodology to follow in launching the business.
A Proposed Sequence
Our proposed model will focus on the venture launch from idea to initial operation, using the missing link – Project Management. Future articles could focus on the use of Organizational Project Management to help build and sustain a small business and grow it.
The proposed model, which is derived from Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects is a project life span model that divides the project life span into three distinct phases; which we explain here.
The business concept is a crucial phase of the project that spans a period from the idea for the venture until an initial decision to go ahead and encompass a feasibility study. The idea owner is likely to be the entrepreneur who has an idea for a business that could be a passion, an income opportunity, filling a need, or fixing a problem, among other drivers for the business.
This is the time for dreaming, but one has to be careful that the dream is real and it is possible to achieve. It is highly risky for someone to launch a new venture without a proper understanding of the challenges and opportunities, although one could argue in rare cases that spontaneous action could also result in good profit.
Therefore, the entrepreneur (small business owner to be) has to study the feasibility of his idea, and for this, we think that existing business planning techniques are very important to use at this stage. However, in addition to the focus on the financials, competition, market demand, operation, and other factors, the entrepreneur needs to also think about Project Management including proper Project Management planning. Proper Project
Management planning includes an understanding of the stakeholders and their expectations and requirements, setting realistic time and cost targets, and having a fair understanding of the project and venture risks (threats and opportunities), in addition to other factors.
Development of the Business Concept
The earlier phase emphasizes the feasibility study and the requirement for business planning. With the business basics in place, Project Management will become more important and the entrepreneur becomes a project manager.
So what do we do now? The project manager/entrepreneur needs to think and act per two aspects, two sides of the same coin. On one side he needs to think about the project from idea to initial operations, but he cannot ignore post-project completion, which would be leading and sustaining the business (operations).
For the project aspect, the project manager needs to put in place all of the requirements in detail for launching the business, including defining the success factors, timeline, required resources, licensing, legal, financial/funding requirements and alternatives, regulations, budget for the launch, timeline, communication with stakeholders, procurement strategy, in addition to risks identification, assessment, and management. All of these activities focus on planning to take us from the idea through project completion but primarily to produce a detailed plan that would give us the necessary information to make the final decision on whether we should continue with the venture or not. This detailed plan is used extensively in the next phase.
For the business aspects, the project manager needs to start planning for operation readiness; which means identifying all of the things needed once the business is operating; such as financial control, human resources, policies, and operational processes, in addition to marketing and business development. If the venture is not for profit, it would still require most of these activities but maybe with the addition of the need for volunteers and volunteer management or the need for sponsors.
Project Delivery (Launching the Business)
With a plan for the project and a plan for operation readiness, it is time to start implementing the project leading to initial operations. In this phase, we implement the activities that we identified in the detailed plan. For example, in the plan we specified, we need a permit, then it is time to do the activities necessary to obtain the permit. In the plan we defined the need for a marketing plan, it is time to define the marketing plan and develop the necessary collateral, whether print or online.
Therefore, the primary purpose of Project Delivery is to perform all of the activities necessary to produce the required deliverables that would be critical for the successful launch of the new business and starting initial operations.
Throughout this document, we discussed “initial operations” and “operations” as two independent terms and this is intentional. We use initial operations to define the period of time that starts with opening our doors as a business or a not-for-profit organization. We call it initial operations because as we start to offer services we might recognize that forms need to be adjusted, some documents might be missing something, among other things that might not go as well as we planned.
Therefore, initial operations will allow us to make the necessary refinements before we go into steady and normal operations. In some situations, we might eliminate initial operations and go straight into normal operations. In other scenarios, we might have a “soft start” as an initial operations period, which we might call also a pilot period/trial period. Which approach to take, all depends on the nature of the business and if it allows a trial period / initial operations or not.