Start-ups are definitely an interesting type of organization to be involved in or with. They are not for the feint of heart…I’ve worked with them in both consulting and direct hire roles – both in basically a project management capacity. It may just be me, but I like working with and for start-ups. It’s energetic, you own your own role, you often make your own rules…the project is really truly yours because everyone else is incredibly busy and trying to figure out what they need to do next. Take it and run with it is usually the mentality of a start-up and often you’re getting direction – if you’re getting direction at all – directly from the CEO. It can be very exciting and somewhat trailblazing…and you definitely feel like an entrepreneur. But remember, it is not for everyone.
But is project management truly 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? And what about company size – that definitely is going to be a factor in our structured you can make it and how much money can be applied towards PM. Let’s consider…
Is PM helpful?
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 a structured process feasible?
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.
Where do you start?
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 start-up would be far better off with a cost-effective web-based solution. MS Project is just too expensive for most start-ups 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. If you’re looking for templates to use in a start-up, countless ones can be found for free on line – most sites and individuals
are happy to share their useful project schedule and planning document templates.
The final step is to assess staffing needs. Most start-ups, 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. Bringing on experienced consulting PMs can get the organization off on a good start for managing their many project initiatives and various business needs and can definitely be beneficial in the hiring and training of more junior level project managers who can eventually take over the reins as the staff and needs grow.