The concept of project management sounds taboo-ish when discussing it in the dynamic spheres of rapidly growing startups. The term has connotations of the anti-startup: the big, heavy, and slow enterprises that require everything to be done rigidly.
In reality, whether you’re in the “search”, “build”, or “grow” stage of your startup, or whether you consider yourself a scale-up, your investors, advisors, and biggest fans expect you to exercise project management at your company.
#1 – Your company is being judged on its timely execution
Hitting funding milestones. Making good on promises to customers. Meeting regulatory mandates. No matter what it is, your company is being weighed against what you deliver and when you deliver it. Actively managing timelines for all your initiatives helps in making this happen. Creating initial, baseline schedules for your projects, adjusting them to meet reality, and (re-)setting expectations accordingly makes execution controllable, predictable and timely. As they say, plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
#2 – Cash is king
Yes! Cash is king. Cashflow is the bloodline of any company. Go ahead and throw in your own “cash-startup” metaphor. You get the point. Despite this fact, many growing companies aren’t allocating a budget to their projects, let alone monitoring how much has been spent on them. Even when iterating, you shouldn’t just focus on how much time has been / should be invested, but also how much money should be put in. It’s not about cutting costs, it’s about reducing wastage.
#3 – Your team has enough steam through the marathon
Long hours, small teams, and high emotions are all a norm, especially when a startup is just out of the gate. But as it grows beyond its first set of hires, how are you managing the team? Is the team stretched too thin? Are you putting too much on it? Is its productivity decreasing and is that demoralizing it? No matter what the team is working on, you want to ensure that it can maintain its stamina, remains energized and focused, and most importantly, stays excited about working with you. Plan your projects based on the capacity of your team and understand how much and how often you can stretch it. If there is more work and not enough capacity, do you hire more staff? Does the cashflow allow it? If so, that’s great. If not, then what is the course of action? Do you overload the team, or re-plan the work? This is why resource management is so critical!
#4 – Scope creep is scary (& lethal)
The concept behind under-promising and over-delivering is that you already have a set focus on what you are delivering, and are setting expectations lower than that. However, the tendency to deliver even more kicks-in, and can often result in depleting funds even before the product is launched – killing the startup in the process. A strong hand in keeping the team focused and saying “no” to everything that is penetrating the focus is vital. Manage the scope. Launch. Iterate. Live to see another day. Prosper.
#5 – You’re managing your product effectively. What about managing the company?
Product management and project management can co-exist within a company. While it’s true that for tech startups, the product is everything, how is the rest of the company being managed? Managing operations is the oversight on the day-to-day activities. But you probably have a set of one-time projects that need to be prioritized and managed. It could be moving your office space, going through a complete rebranding, upgrading your infrastructure rack, validating a new sales funnel, developing a new customer service model, and so on. They require your effective management as well.
Even if your rapidly-growing company may not have the funds to formally get a project manager on-board, it is vital for you and your team to learn and practice the skills of project management. Get formal training, find a mentor/coach (yes, I can help), nominate someone from your team to lead the charge, and/or adopt effective tools to get you started.
Don’t let the plague of being un-structured hurt your company. The structure can be as flexible as you need it to be, but it needs to be there. Remember, project management is not just for large enterprises. It’s for your rapidly growing company as well.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Hussain Bandukwala is the Chief PMO Coach and Adviser at Parwaaz Consulting (www.parwaazcc.com), which provides coaching, support and resources to facilitate the success of Project Management Office (PMO) leaders at high-growth small- and mid-sized organizations. He has led and facilitated the PMO setup at several companies and advised numerous PMO leaders through their PMO establishment.
Hussain has authored several PMO-focused publications, speaks regularly at Project Management Institute (PMI) events and holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from The College of Wooster in Ohio.
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