Who says that you don't need to be a multi-million pound FTSE100 company employing thousands of people at sites across the globe to deliver projects successfully

Whether you're a startup, scale-up, challenger or identify as a more traditional SME, a crucial part of successful long-term growth is knowing and understanding how to plan and implement effectively.

Having the core knowledge, skills and capabilities to manage and direct projects efficiently and professionally can set you apart from competitors when launching a new product or service, changing a key strategy, rolling out new software, embedding industry reforms or onboarding extra staff and departments.

Recent examples where project management could have played a significant part in your business are the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the current Making Tax Digital (MTD) requirement by HMRC.

Each would be one of many things fighting for the attention of time poor CEOs, founders and senior people, but project management techniques could help to keep these initiatives on track, budgeted for effectively and help to ensure they are a stronger success over time.

Too many companies are overlooking project management when hiring - placing a focus on finance, legal, IT, marketing and HR talent instead. But our own study, carried out through PwC, found that project management contributes £156.5bn of annual Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy and employs one in 12 workers. This equates to 8% of the UK FTE! Compare this to the marketing sector, which employs 1.5% of UK FTE and contributes £36.5 billion of GVA and you'll understand the value in making project management more of a focus - its contribution is enormous.

One must caution though about how too often companies are jeopardising project successes by relying on accidental project managers - employees who may show the right skills in other roles but don't have the formal knowledge, experience or training to fully manage a scalable, complex or integral project from start to finish. Understandably it can be tempting proposition - to task a successful employee to take on a new project - and it's a tricky balance for SMEs when funding is needed in other areas but having skilled project professionals at the heart of your organisation increases efficiencies and mitigates losses.

As our ‘Golden Thread' PwC study showed however, demand for projects to be designed, managed and directed by skilled project managers has now become a fundamental need for organisations whatever the size.

Having the right frameworks, methods and tools, and the right people to use them well, should now be considered a necessity not a luxury; it is something that should run through the heart of a business.

Our study defined a project as "a temporary, non-routine endeavour or rolling programme of change designed to produce a distinct product, service or end result. It has a defined beginning and end, a specific scope, a ring-fenced budget, involves an identified and potentially dedicated team with a project manager in charge and is undertaken to achieve planned objectives, typically to bring about generation and creation of outputs and outcomes. It is distinct from ‘business as usual'."

If that sounds familiar, then that is surely because you are carrying out multiple projects - in all but name - every single day.

You will be no stranger either to project management as a life skill for running an SME, which we defined as "the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives and bring about planned outputs and/or outcomes. This includes initiating the project, planning, executing, controlling, quality assuring and closing the work of an identified and dedicated team according to a specified budget and timeframe."

Its importance in an organisation's role is clear - 40% of those we spoke to for the PwC study expected project management to grow in the next three years with two out of five respondents considering qualifications in it to be vital for a candidate's CV.
It is no wonder then that 37% of those surveyed said they currently sought an APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ) in potential candidates.

A third of those surveyed also expected the size of project budgets would increase in the coming three years. Additionally, it's important to note that a third (32%) cited a challenge from the past three years as having access to enough people with the right project management skills and capabilities in the UK so there's clearly much more work to be done to train the next generation of talent.

As technology allows us to transform our small and medium businesses digitally, project management will be needed to deliver efficiencies, scale and growth. Roles will encompass all sorts of skills from budgeting and cost control to planning and monitoring and for SMEs who need to be flexible, reactive and have an aptitude for embracing uncertainty, project management is going to be key.

SMEs with entrepreneurial mindsets are conditioned to try and fail and to learn from those failures but by using project management techniques, they'll be able to better identify and define what success looks like before starting out. That success can be further augmented or that failure better understood too through lessons learnt on previous projects.

Many smaller companies may be sceptical about project management but at its strongest it can and will always adapt to the needs of any industry. It thrives on defining a problem and generating ideas - the core of 21st century startup and SME thinking - but it has the ability to help you make for better evaluation, greater and more innovative solutions and opens up a path to fully seeing the bigger picture. Most SMEs focus on those ideals every day, so I urge you to consider the potential for so much further improvement when project management becomes an embedded, rather than an untapped, discipline in your own business.

You can download a free copy of The Golden Thread Report here: