What Startup Owners Need to Know about Project Management

Not many startups live up to celebrate their 5th birthday. Their fate is often uncertain because they are small and undeveloped businesses that are trying to enter a constantly-evolving and chaotic market. While it is true that nothing evolves without chaos (which is a fertile ground for new ideas), nothing can exist without order. However, there are too many unknown variables which makes creating a clear definition of product offering and market segments more difficult.

Many problems that startups run into are out of the control of their owners. For example, the introduction of a competitor’s solution or deteriorating market conditions that can have major consequences to a young business with a single product focus and limited funding, and no project management solution can prevent these. However, project management isn’t just about a certain methodology or process, but also hiring the right people, getting them to collaborate, sharing information, and providing them with the necessary tools.

In order to be able to improve and maintain your performance, in spite of countless challenges that you may face, your startup’s projects and resources need to be managed more efficiently. In this article, we will talk about what is project management, common startup project management mistakes, and how to enhance your project management performance.

What is project management?
Project management can be viewed as both art and science. It’s an art because it involves managing and relating to different people, and requires the application of intuitive skills in unique situations that come with each project. It’s also science because it relies on proven and repeatable techniques and processes require for achieving project success.

If your startup suffers from certain shortcomings, such as reactive project management, weak and inconsistently used techniques and processes, and projects completed late – they can be overcome with good project management discipline. Project management is used for coordinating resources to achieve predictable results, even though it should be understood that there’s never a guarantee of success because it’s not an exact science. It provides processes, framework, techniques, and guidelines to manage the work and the people.

Common mistakes in startup project management

  1. Wrong project manager:  If you don’t have a person with project management experience or a PMI certification, don’t make the mistake by hiring someone with the necessary skillset and overlooking the role of managing the project to success. A good project manager must be assigned accountability and responsibility, not just be a coordinator of a project plan.
  2. Inadequate risk planning: Startups face many risks, but startup owners often underestimate them. This is wrong because one of the most important aspects of project management is managing risks. You need to understand the risk and find ways to mitigate against it. Ignoring it and hoping that it won’t happen is irresponsible and shortsighted.
  3. Not creating deliverable schedules: Scheduling a project is never easy, because it requires a number of estimates while knowing that just some of them will be accurate. Not creating a detailed delivery schedule can be tempting, and justified with many excuses with often disastrous consequences. Scheduling helps identify certain areas of risk and helps getting everyone to focus on the plan.
  4. Not using project management software: Some startups have an aversion to using project management software. They think that this kind of software is too complex for their needs, and it’s difficult to imagine why they adopt this attitude when aware of the proliferation of project management software. However, it’s better to use the most rudimentary tools (like an Excel spreadsheet) than not using any project management software. Project management tools are the best collaboration solution today, and a fast and reliable means for documenting responsibilities and roles, and mapping out project plans accordingly.
  5. Not communicating on a regular basis: There has to be a rhythm to communication, and many startup companies tend to forget that. Your teammates may be available for the most part (because we live in a hyper-connected world), but you need a regular time where the whole team can track progress, identify problems, work together on resolving them. Schedule your meetings regularly with a predictable topic schedule.

Why doesn’t every startup practice effective project management?
Why do startups fail on utilizing good project management methodologies? There’s a wide range of reasons for this:

  • Not having the right skills: People are sometimes asked to manage projects, without the necessary experience or skills. They struggle because they lack training and tools.
  • Having a fear of control from teammates: People don’t like being supervised and want to able to do their jobs creatively. They fear that the creativity and fun will be taken out of the work due to formal project management techniques. However, some tasks require following standard processes.
  • Not wanting to invest time and effort upfront:  Many people might not be comfortable with their planning skills as they consider themselves to be “doers”. However, when you have a long-term project, this doesn’t work, because the project has to be properly planned while retaining the discipline to manage it effectively.
  • Being buried in the past: Some managers start thinking immediately about delay, overhead, and paperwork when they talk about processes that come up. They don’t connect with the value that a project management methodology brings, and they keep thinking about how it’s paper intensive, cumbersome, and takes away too much focus from work. Sometimes, this criticism is legitimate, but you need to realize that it’s not a methodology problem, but it’s misapplication.

How to achieve project management success?

  1. Organization and communication:  Everyone directly involved with the business (owner(s), managers, and employees) must be clear of the company’s goals in order for the business to be sustainable, viable, and successful. Your teammates should be organized in a manner so that you can communicate with them clearly, and let them understand their task/job or role they’re acquitted with.
  2. Planning: There must be a plan, because without planning your projects will almost always lead to failures. Before you undertake any project, create a well-constructed plan that will save you money, time, and common pitfalls. On the other hand, you’ll fail due to unrealistic goals, lack of understanding of the business, and mismanaged scheduling.
  3. Stay true to your plans and execute:  Always give your best at identifying problems and their solutions. You need constant monitoring, reporting, and intervention if you want to achieve your goals on time.
  4. Quality and cost measurement: To achieve success, you must provide the best quality within your budget, and set all the variables to be in accordance with your customers’ expectations. Be consistent and efficient by planning and coordinating your business. The triple constraint is about being aware of potential changes that can impact time, cost, and scope.
  5. High performance:  Good organizational culture and discipline is essential for every company, because a strong cultural environment will show core values, beliefs, and attitudes that distinguish your business from the others. Also, brainstorming, frequent ideation, and transparent communication are hallmarks of a highly productive organization.

Improve your startup’s project management and start working smarter. Every business bumps into obstacles (especially startups) on their roads to success, and that shouldn’t scare you. In order to implement a project management methodology successfully, you have to convince yourself that there’s value if the processes are utilized correctly. As we said earlier in this article, project management is not an exact science, because it uses a mixture of procedures, processes, and templates. Don’t think that you don’t need these methodologies, and if you think you don’t have them, you actually have informal and poor ones.

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