Why Project Management for Startups Is Different?

Why Project Management for Startups Is Different

This is the first part of my Project Management series Tech Startup Projects: What’s different, what works, what doesn’t.

Let me get straight to it. Yes – we will be talking about Project Management and i will be ‘spilling the beans’ on our approach to this topic at Cliffex. Why? It’s two things really:

  • It will be a written brief of how we manage projects here at Cliffex. It’s based on the real world experience we’ve had working with many startup founders and Product Owners. Our method is based on in-depth experience of what really works – and what doesn’t.
  • I want this set of posts to inspire new Project Managers joining our team at Cliffex. This is an introduction to our Project Management method – and why it is important.

For ease of reading and coherence, i have divided this post into the following topics, and as four post releases:

Why project management for startups is different?

What to consider among project management tools for startups

Why we prefer a mix of project management methodologies

What we think is the best approach to project management

Sticking to the plan

If I asked you to list the most difficult things you’ve faced at your growing startup I would be confident in saying that “sticking to the plan” is one of them. In other words, applying sound project management. This is a key characteristic of successful startups, and in contrast, as I am sure you know, many startups have failed because of poor project management.

The key here is to understand why managing projects for startups is different in many ways, when compared to established enterprises. A lot of Project Management tools assume perfect planning and adherence to a structured method. This is easier to do in an established enterprise with a more longer-term focus, more resources and an experienced team. They lose their effectiveness when applied to the iterative, short-term, resource-scarce, success-hungry world of tech startups.

Accepting change and uncertainty

Project Management needs structured, detailed planning. Change and uncertainty are its enemies. Startups are known for their comfort with change. They need to embrace uncertainty. It is totally acceptable at a startup to change course in a matter of days, or even hours.

A change request that would take weeks or months of planning, meetings and preparations in an enterprise company happens within days, or even hours, at a startup. Yes, it would be at a much smaller scale, and of course, this will only work for particular use cases, a focused audience, and with a constrained financial budget.

Need for speed

It will be necessary for the tech startup to embrace change, continuously. This means that there will always be trade-offs, just as there are in larger enterprises. But here, it is simply the speed of change required from the design and development team. This is remarkably faster than in the larger enterprise and the design and development team must embrace this as a way of life. All this requires a different set of practices of project management.

In a world of constant change, there are many challenges to manage. One of them is employee motivation within the design and development studio, such as ours at Cliffex. It is important that all design and development team members understand why certain changes are required by the startup – often at short notice. Your team will be working on implementing a login and user authentication system to be delivered in a week. Suddenly you get crucial customer feedback that drives you towards password-less authentication. How would you react in situations like these? Especially, if that work required much thinking and effort to produce.

Lean and feedback driven

A lot of successful startups implement what is called Lean software development methodology. Lean works on a set of principles that ensure optimum resource utilization for maximum results. In order to dig deeper into why project management for startups is different, it is important to mention some related points from Lean. Lean is a feedback driven, early release, and fast delivery culture. Team defers commitment to a work and most of the decisions are reversible. This means that instead of implementing a feature perfectly and spending too much time on it, the team focuses on faster delivery cycles so that the product reaches the customer as soon as possible for a feedback. Feedback drives what gets delivered and if feedback tells you to change implementation or change directions, you do.

Start with Why

As a founder, I would highly recommend that you read Start with why by Simon Sinek. I have noticed tremendous benefits ever since I read this book and started applying its learnings at work. I have found it very useful to communicate not only what needs to be done but also why it needs to be done. It helps me in everything from effectively delegating work to making sure team members perform at best of their capability. There is a much bigger hidden benefit to this as well. With time, your team will make your vision as their own!

Great teams work because they share a common goal. Knowing why is as important as knowing how, when It comes to the startup world of constant change. So, at Cliffex we have learned to engage each team member deeply into our projects and communicate with project managers openly and frankly. A lot of times, we hear great implementation ideas that allow us to implement the change in half the time! In the fourth post of this series, I will go in more detail on how we handle change requests at Cliffex.