Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Project Management for Startups

I’ve worked with several startups in both capacities - as an employee and as a consultant. Frankly, I enjoyed the consulting role more, but that’s just me. One thing is for sure - I definitely like working with and for startups. It’s energetic, you own your own role, you often make your own rules…the project is really really really yours because everyone else is so busy and trying to figure out what they need to do next. Take it and run with it is usually the mentality of a startup. Exciting and trailblazing.

Now let’s focus solely on project management. Is it needed in a startup? Is it feasible to have a structured project management process in a startup? If both of those are yes, how do you do it? What does it take to set it up? Lots of structure…a little structure? Let’s consider…

Do startups need PM?

I’m going to answer with a resounding ‘YES!’ to this one. Why? Because they are new, they are trying to establish sound business practices, and they are trying to obtain and retain customers. If a startup embarks on projects without one or more experienced project managers and some defined processes, the only thing that will get them success is luck and you can’t really build a successful business on luck…not for the long-term anyway.

Is it feasible to have a structured PM process in a startup?

Again, my answer is yes. I’ve done it. I was asked to come in to a startup and salvage their first three projects that were failing miserably. I wrapped PM processes around it, brought customers in for presentations on how things were going to be done, and we ended up with three successful implementations AND the makings of a PM practices at the same time.

How do you set up a PM practice in a startup?

In my case, you come with your own tools. They literally had nothing. Well, they owned MS Project, but this was a few years ago. Today a startup would be far better off with a cost-effective web-based solution like Project Drive or a similar tool. MS Project is just too expensive for most startups if they need licenses for multiple users and it’s just not necessary.

You need some templates in hand…project schedule shells from past projects, plan documents that you’ve pulled from other successful engagements, a budget planning and forecasting tool or spreadsheet that has served you well in the past. They likely won’t have anything…so you either need to have it with you or search the internet for something to download. I offer several templates and sample documents for free download on my website at

And finally you need to assess how much staff you need. Most startups, when their business is ramping up, should be able to make do with one or two consulting project managers. Hiring permanent staff right out of the gate is probably a risky idea. Adding experienced consulting PMs can get you started down the right path and they can then be used to help you in the hiring and training of more junior level project managers who can eventually take over the reins.

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1 comment:

Steve Wilheir said...

I've seen many startups intentionally avoid "organization" because they find it to inhibitive. When you get a control-driven PMP in there who pushes for things to stay exactly on track, the young, dynamic start-up can't really bend and flex they way they need to. Priorities change constantly in smaller organizations and people are side-tracked and reallocated constantly simply because they don't know what they don't know -- including, frequently, what the customer wants, what should be in the next release, and so forth. A premature organization style can be just as hazardous as a chaotic management style, imho.