Plan of action: Project Management grad pens book to help small businesses achieve big goals

There’s an old saying: “When one door closes, another door opens.”

Case in point? Heather Klassen, a 2014 graduate of Red River College’s Project Management program, who in 2012 was working in addictions counselling when she unexpectedly lost her job.

Faced with the choice of pursuing more training in her chosen field or charting a new course, Klassen — then a University of Manitoba grad with a B.A. in criminology and psychology — enrolled at RRC and embarked on a career path she never knew existed.

“My interest was occupational health and safety, but the first course that I could take through the Red River program was project management fundamentals,” she says. “I had no idea what it was when I took that course, but once I started getting into it, it sounded like something really interesting that I wanted to keep pursuing.”

Project management is about “getting stuff done” and achieving identified goals in a methodical way, Klassen explains.

“It was a different way of thinking,” she says. “I had come from a crisis management/crisis worker role where everything just sort of happens, so there really was no planning. (Project management) was pro-active. It was definitely a gear shift in terms of how I looked at things and went about things, but I realized it’s just so practical.”

While commonplace in the big business world of manufacturing, construction and software development, project management is under-utilized by small businesses, Klassen quickly realized.

“While I was finishing my studies, I started networking among small businesses and discovered that there was a gap for small business and project management,” Klassen says. “I realized there isn’t a lot out there right now for small businesses.”

Recognizing an opportunity, Klassen targeted her services towards small businesses and wrote a book, Within Reach – An action plan to (finally) turn your ideas into reality, to help small business owners and other clients achieve their goals.

“I think for a lot of small business owners, myself included, we try to do everything ourselves,” Klassen says.

“We do what we’re good at in our business, why we started the business, and then we do all the backend stuff: the bookkeeping, accounting, inventory, marketing, website development, that sort of thing. Project management is an opportunity to outsource some of those things.”

Klassen says she wrote Within Reach with the aim of simplifying what, for newcomers to project management, can be a daunting process.

“When I started my business, I decided that I wanted to make project management more accessible to everyone,” she says. “There are a lot of technical terms that are used. If you are in the field, that’s great, but for the average person, it’s hard to understand.

“If it’s a sole proprietor trying to build their business, this is process that they can use. If it’s someone introducing a new product or service, instead of doing it off the cuff, there is actually a process that is involved.”

Klassen’s clients have ranged from a renovation company involved in complete apartment makeovers to a car salesman who wanted help reaching his health and fitness goals.

Project management can be applied “to almost anything, from planning a meal… all the way up to a business that wants to develop a new product or service, streamline their business or increase their productivity. It really is endless.”

RRC’s Project Management program is offered through distance education.

“The flexibility of that program and having access to instructors… outside of a classroom setting was the most beneficial thing for me,” Klassen says. “The distance education program is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Profile by Dean Pritchard (Creative Communications, 1994)