The term “startup” is often considered synonymous with spontaneity and free-form innovation. Often, structure and order can be viewed as obstacles rather than valuable tools in startup environments. However, startup businesses can often benefit even more from the careful planning inherent in strong project management than their larger, more established corporate competition. Because startups typically work with little money or time but a significant amount of risk and uncertainty, effective project management can make the difference between a failed startup and a successful and scalable business.
Whether you are an entrepreneur or the person hired to keep everyone on task, here are five project management approaches specific and unique to startups to keep in mind:
1. Understand What the Right Tech Solutions Look Like
Scalability is one of the biggest challenges that all startups face. While growth is the goal of any new business, understanding the correct steps to take to achieve this outcome can be difficult for project managers. Startups are hindered in their efforts to grow and scale by something as basic as choosing the wrong technological tools and systems. Businesses, in general, have problems picking the most cost-effective solutions that meet their employees’ need. Startups face a particularly robust set of challenges as a result of tight time to test solutions and tight budgets for services they might deem not directly correlated to their success. Before adopting any new technological solutions, startup project managers must take into consideration a number of key factors:
• Understanding what your employees actually need. While it’s easy to be drawn in by a sales pitch, focusing your resources only on what your employees
indicate they truly require is critical. Keeping it simple can make a significant difference.
• Ensuring that the technical requirements of your system match the skill level of your employees. No matter how perfect a solution otherwise is, a system
that is too complex for users won’t be adopted.
• Soliciting feedback from both employees and clients (if they will be using the system) before committing to anything new. If the system doesn’t work for
these important groups, it can’t work for your business.
2. Emphasize the Importance of Strong Team Communication
The nature of startup businesses tends to require that employees wear many different hats. While larger and more established companies are able to assign specific roles to particular employees, startups must often call upon team members to contribute to a number of distinct tasks across a variety of projects. This extensive multi-tasking goes hand-in-hand with the collaborative environment that is central to startup culture. For this approach to succeed, employees must communicate effectively with one another. One of the key roles of a project manager at a startup is to lay the groundwork to enable such strong team communication. Help your employees find the right communication system that allows them to collaborate and work together effectively; many fledging companies, particularly those that have remote workers, find success through productivity apps.
3. Incorporate the Risk Inherent to Startups in Your Planning
Dealing with risk is one of a startup project manager’s most demanding balancing acts. Risk is almost an integral part of startup culture, and a lack of risk aversion is generally considered key to a startup’s success. Introducing a new and innovative product to the market is always going to be fraught with uncertainty and unpredictability. None of this changes the fact that assessing and planning for risks is necessary for successful project management. Given the fact that startups face such a wide range of potential risks including issues obtaining continued funding, difficulties with business model sustainability and tight product launch schedules – project managers need to be particularly aware of strategies for mitigation. In other words, a startup project manager needs to be able to accept the culture of risk that is inherent in this setting while simultaneously creating a plan that effectively identifies and responds to potential risk factors.
4. Create Detailed Schedules and Realistic Timelines
Creating a project schedule is always important, but for startups that don’t have the benefit of historical data and experience with past projects to use as a blueprint, constructing a detailed structure and thorough timeline for projects at the outset is critical. Because startup project managers can’t refer to past results to use as a rough guide, outlining any new project down to the smallest components and deliverables will serve to best anticipate the necessary timeline. Breaking up projects into small pieces and employing shorter delivery cycles can also help cut down on bottlenecks and allow your team to increase their responsiveness to emerging changes needed in the workflow. Projects tend to rely on interrelated elements that have differing requirements, so choosing to approach your overall project as a series of smaller deliverables can increase productivity and efficiency. IT can also lessen the risk that unforeseen issues with one aspect of the project will end up delaying the timeline for the entire end product.
5. Embrace the Idea of a Minimum Viable Product
If his or her experience comes from working at more mature companies, the typical project manager approaches product development differently. He or she may view it as a long process dedicated to creating a fully fleshed out and feature rich product that is ready for consumers. However, startups often lack the funding or the time to go through a drawn-out product development cycle. For this reason, many startup project managers have come to embrace the idea of a minimum viable product. A minimum viable product includes just the core features required to get your product on the market at any particular stage of development. The benefits can be huge; instead of spending time polishing and creating features that are extraneous, your team can concentrate only on the features that are necessary. This way, the product ideally receives valuable feedback – and potentially paying customers – faster than it would in a typical product development process.
Pursue a Formal Education
Are you looking for the right master’s program to help prepare you for a career as a project manager? Our online Master of Science in Management with a concentration in Project Management is designed to provide students with the expertise and understanding required to establish themselves as effective leaders and decision makers. If you are interested in learning more, visit New England College online today.