Imagine you’re a professional racing driver. You love the thrill that comes with the sport. You ride the ‘waves’ and jump the ‘bumps’ with relative ease. Hell, you’ve even qualified to race in the ‘big leagues.’
But will you be any good, if not great, if your pit-stop team was slow, inefficient, and error-prone? Will your individual contribution make up for your team’s lackluster performance?
No, right? That’s the essence of the startup culture for you.
Like every other aspiring business, what makes a startup work (pun intended) is a seamless blend of talent, technology, and tolerance. If you wish to take your business multiple notches higher, you need to integrate on-point project management practices with critical touch-points, such as people, budget, timelines, technology, etc., to achieve a collaborated, unified goal.
Handy tip: Read our favorite book, “The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive” by Terri L. Griffith, where she urges startups to take stock of their human and technological resources in a compelling manner.
Project Management in Startups
“Only 22% of organizations use project management software, with 55% not having access to real-time KPIs. As a result, 50% of respondents claim that they spend one or more days to collate project reports manually.” – Wellington Survey
To put it bluntly, there are infinite inherent and unique challenges that dictate whether your startup stays afloat or fails. Here are the top-3 reasons why startups fail, according to research by CB Insights:
No market need (42%)
Cash flow problems (29%)
Team-related issues (23%)
Furthermore, if you drill-down into the finer details, you’ll find a common pattern emerging – one where poor ‘project management‘ is to blame for widespread losses and unrelenting failures. When it comes to project management-related roadblocks, studies suggest that startups wish to avoid the following factors like the plague:
Unstructured project practices (*often) leading to a chaotic working style.
Unexplored and increasingly complex intra- and inter-team dynamics that dictate the choice of (good or poor) project management methodology. An excerpt from the journal Business Venturing talks about the importance of team collaboration, dynamic innovation, and organizational learning, especially the effect it has on the way projects are managed.
“According to the dynamic capabilities theory, firms compile knowledge, expertise, and skills through organizational learning. Learning capabilities enable firms to perform their activities in improved ways. Organizational learning happens when their members interact with each other and develop common codes of communication and coordination of activities.”
All in all, it is imperative that project managers and team members collaborate and brainstorm about their workflow to get a more unobstructed view of which project management methodology will work for them – for instance, Kanban, Sprints, or Agile to boost work efficiency. What kind of a team rapport, communication practices, and company culture exists heavily influences such brainstorming sessions.
Handy Tip: When determining the right project management methodology for your organization, ask yourself these questions: What does your business structure look like? What is the size of your company, and how would you define your organization’s goals? What kind of complexities does your project entail, and what’s the expected end-result? Is there a preferred project methodology among your team members and/or clients?
Dealing with a high-pressure, high-stakes job that’s riddled with too many variables that are forever spinning out of control: This may be one of the foremost reasons why 26+ unicorn startups exited in 2018.
Budgetary, time-related, and operational constraints: The trifecta that possibly led to around 4,217 startup exits worldwide in 2017.
Absence of transparency: Project management by itself is no joke. Add to the equation factors such as restricted resources, shoe-string budgets, and tight deadlines, and project management becomes a herculean task. Naturally, a startup’s inability to view all the moving parts of a project at once can leave them short-sighted and struggling to stay afloat.
Inability to make the right decisions at the right time due to a lack of accurate, insight-driven data.
Scattered teams and unorganized work schedules.
Inability to deliver value to clients without incurring fatal losses.
Now that we have a fair understanding of why startups fail let’s look at what makes them work. To make things easier for you, we’ve created a comprehensive project management guide (of sorts) that every startup will find engaging and relevant. In that spirit, let’s get started.
Project Management Software for Successful Project Delivery and Maximum Productivity
Ask around, and nine times out of ten, you’ll hear the words – “I want to be more productive” coming out of the mouth of freshers, professionals, thought leaders, and the like.
While there’s a treasure trove of physical information – comprising of books, podcasts, research, blogs, courses, etc. that you can study, they all just help you, well, read and be informed.
On the other hand, there are multiple project management tools for startups that can help them act on their implicit knowledge and help them solve the diverse challenges they face today while offering specialized benefits, from start-to-finish. Let’s explore what these benefits include.
One of the most common mistakes that startups are making today is undermining the real value a project management software can bring to the table. Let’s dissect this further with real-life examples, so you can make a sound, informed decision. The following is where startups go wrong and how project management software can help them.
1. Identifying Clear Goals and Setting a Plan in Motion
It (entrepreneurial business) is a work culture where it’s always about the next thing, and priority walks out the door 744 times per day. Unfortunately, in the modern era, the Shiny Object Syndrome is normative at most workplaces.” – From the Book, “Get a Grip” by Gino Wickman and Mike Patton
Ever heard of the “Shiny Object Syndrome” (SOS)? Basically, this concept stresses the fact that people continually tend to chase new ideas, tools, and goals instead of focusing on the current requirements.
Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, further adds: “Companies that have defined their core value proposition sometimes move away from it when they experience hyper-growth. They draw resources away from the core too quickly in pursuit of the next bright, shiny object. As a result, the company becomes vulnerable to competitors that go after its core.
And you’re in a position where you have to react to the competition now, and you have to draw resources away from that growth opportunity back to your core. Not only does that dynamic damage a company’s market position, but it also makes employees feel stressed and whipsawed.”
Why it makes sense: According to a recent study by London Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, “Only a third of senior managers can correctly identify what the CEO identified as the firm’s top three priorities.”
In sum, when the priorities are not set, everything becomes a priority. Nod if this makes sense, and you’ve been in such a situation where you’re clearly losing the plot. This is what project management tools and practices allow startups to do;
Communicate goals and objectives down the chain in a prioritized, strategic, structured, and organic manner.
Prevent over-communication (and confusion) in a hyper-connected environment.
Track progress, identify bottlenecks and work collaboratively on issues.
Document project roles and responsibilities while creating a project blueprint with the end-goal in mind.
2. Retaining a Culture of Collaboration While Focusing on Growth
When done right, hiring offers startups their biggest asset – the people. That said, it also brings about a host of challenges, as Bob Sutton, an organizational psychologist, author, and professor at Stanford University, suggests: “As an organization grows, whether you like it or not, it will require more hierarchical layers, managers, rules, and (often) annoying administrative processes. It will also become increasingly difficult to maintain personal relationships with all your colleagues and your clients.”
So the real question then becomes: “How can a project management software bring about a sense of discipline and business/ product requirements-related clarity in a high-powered, unpredictable environment?
Why it makes sense: In addition to the project management challenges that even seasoned project managers face, new project managers have to care for another problem – improper requirements management. Often times, clients tend to bend the rules with startups or take undue advantage of their inexperience, lack of rigid procedure, and willingness to please clients to retain business.
Additionally, it is seen that startups don’t necessarily have tried-and-tested requirements change management practices in place.
All of this can cause chaos, unclear product requirements, and ultimately lead to different teams doing different things for the same project deliverable. This is where a requirements management tool acts as the light at the end of the tunnel. It helps you to:
- Manage requirements efficiently, so that project execution begins in an organized manner.
- Access greater control over changing requirements and consequent risks.
- Collaborate with internal and external stakeholders seamlessly.
- Ensure that your team always stays on the right track.
- Dismiss ambiguity and boost your team’s productivity.
- Set up a mechanism for faster, real-time feedback from teammates as well as key stakeholders.
Handy Tip: Give the book, “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (3rd Edition),” a read. Co-authored by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister, this book outlines how getting diverse people and technologies to work together can be your best bet yet.
3. Multi-Tasking and Excelling in Every Area: A Balancing Act
Let’s take the example of the world’s leading online streaming services – Netflix. From producing brilliant content and managing multiple projects to maintaining streaming services for 150+ million users, the company clearly has its hands full. In such a scenario, a comprehensive project management and team collaboration tool acts as a godsend.
Why it makes sense: If you wish to add more transparency and clarity to your teams – especially if your tech team is forever at the deep-end, invest in a project management software that specializes in task management. Apart from this, a robust project management software offers an unusual suite of benefits such as:
- Managing and assigning day-to-day tasks while mitigating risks.
- File-sharing and communicating project goals as often as possible.
- Updating the current project status based on the project’s progress in real-time.
- Archiving files and documents for future reference.
- Managing inventory, costs, and invoicing.
- Scheduling resources and setting budgets as per requirement.
- Tracking performance on the basis of key factors such as time, assets, etc.
- Reporting bugs and fixing issues.
- Using contextual feedback and iterating in real-time.
4. Managing Unprecedented and Unforeseen Expansion
Get this. Global e-commerce marketplace, Groupon reached a valuation of $1 billion in just 16 months of its launch. Clearly, manual intervention to manage this kind of growth and volume was not going to be feasible by any stretch of the imagination. Enter: Project management tools. These super-useful tools empower you to stay organized and in control when all hell breaks loose (which happens at least twice a day in startups, am I right?).
Why it makes sense: There are numerous intuitive software solutions that allow you to categorize your projects on the basis of teams, communication, priorities, etc. What this also does is it takes the guesswork out of where to go next when your company is scaling at an unimaginable rate.
If you’re looking for a way to implement harmonious collaboration across the board, get your hands on a project management software that best suits your needs and has the ability to scale with you.
5. Accessing Progressive, Data-Driven Insights in Real-time for Swift Delivery
Startups who work with clients on a global scale need their ears on the ground (multi-geographical in this case) and their eyes on the horizon. Plus, there are ones like PayPal, which, in the first 15 months since inception, pivoted 5X in order to keep up with the changing market requirements. The result? PayPal’s agility led it to out-compete eBay’s in-house payment solution, and the latter ended up acquiring PayPal.
Why adopting a project management software makes sense: A project management software offers both a high-level and granular-level overview of projects and tasks across teams in real-time to get a better understanding of how all the moving parts work together (or are not moving together).
Startups can then run with this information, analyze it, and gain an insight into what works or doesn’t work and why. This, in turn, allows startups to adapt to a more fluid working process.
Handy tip: At this point, it makes sense to collate the data about key questions that the software answers for you, such as:
- Did everyone complete their work that was allotted yesterday?
- What are the people working on today?
Are there any roadblocks that are preventing the team from reaching their individual and collective goals?
6. Boosting Productivity by Freeing up Time and Resources
Did you know what Y Combinator, the most successful startup incubator in the world, asks its applicants when they apply? Side projects. In fact, sometimes, they encourage nascent startups to work on side projects and make it their ‘mainstream idea.’ But what does this have to do with project management?
Why adopting a project management software makes sense: A holistic project management tool takes care of routine, mundane tasks so that thought leaders, startup founders, and budding entrepreneurs can carve out the time to work on creatively-inclined side projects. After all, who knows which unrealistic idea may someday blow up into a multi-million-dollar business?
Case in point: Twitter began as a tiny side project, master-minded by podcasting platform, Odeo, in one of its company hackathon sessions! Unbelievable, right?
7. G.Building Deeper Client Relationships
In simple terms, an unclear project strategy or delayed project deliverables inevitably translate to customer dissatisfaction at the end of the project life cycle.
Why it makes sense: This is where time-tracking – an essential feature of every project management software – can come to your aid. Some of the newest project management tools allow teams to collaborate with clients and stakeholders from within the tool. This helps your external stakeholders and clients to keep an eye on project progress, feel more valued, in control, and connected. Plus, it’s common knowledge that people work faster when they’re being timed.
So make use of time-tracking capabilities to boost your team’s morale and productivity, while ensuring your clients get the transparency and honesty they value. Two birds, one stone, infinite benefits – get the drift?
“Startups play poker; big companies play chess.” – Don Dodge, Developer Advocate at Google
Often times, startups view project management practices and tools as too complex or unnecessary for their business venture. Funnily enough, the opposite is true. Project management tools allow resource-starved startups to work efficiently and profitably.
They say when it comes to birthing the best startup ideas, you should “scratch your own itch.” In the same vein, project management tools for startups double up as an effective anti-(gl)itch remedy, one that can eliminate the need to spend more on unnecessary and extra resources to ‘manage’, ‘organize’, ‘guide & broker’ and also:
- Help you take the leap of faith from transforming innovative ideas to fully-functioning businesses.
- Drive side projects and morph them into creating billion-dollar enterprises.
- Plug the gap between limited resources and consistent performance.
- Project management tools guide ambitious ventures by way of delivering technical prowess, fostering deep and stable business-client-employee connections, and imbibing intuitive knowledge into a startup’s adrenaline-heavy, coffee-induced working style.
Most Important Tip for Startups Looking for Project Management Tools
What I always recommend startups is – when looking for tools to expedite operations and management, make sure they come with trials and excellent support. And look for startup discounts. Many companies offer discounts to startups.
You don’t want to end up paying more, or even worse, for something that doesn’t really work for your venture. Don’t go with the flow even though you might be averse to risk-taking. New and better tools keep coming up in the markets every so often. Take a risk with it, try new ones, and kick the tires hard. Best of luck!
About the Author: Product & PM enthusiast and a product guy at heart and by profession (Product Manager @Xebrio), who writes about business analysis and design.