When it comes to delivering projects on time and within budget, startups have little margin for error. Many people assume that startups do not need the same level of ProjectManagement discipline that larger companies do.
However, a startup’s success depends on setting expectations, careful #planning, understanding risk, and delivering value to all stakeholders, whether they be customers, partners, or investors.
Project planning should be as crucial to startups as any other business. Without proper ProjectPlanning, the startup will more likely fail.
The following is a list of common project management mistakes that startups often make and how to avoid these scenarios.
1. Not knowing how to say “no.”
“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say, yes.”
Startup teams are often small and intimate, reflecting the informal startup culture.
Taking on a startup project management role in a flat organization brings many challenges.
It is often difficult for a project manager to say “no” to their team members with little formal hierarchy, especially since everyone is wearing multiple hats and being thinly spread.
By acquiescing to a team member’s request, short term conflict will be avoided. As tempting (and convenient) as it may be for the project manager to delegate responsibility and empower their team, it is also the project manager’s role to filter and challenge team requirements.
Of course, it is not always easy or pleasant to balance the team comradely with project discipline. A skilled project manager in a startup needs to #develop the ability to listen well, understand a request, and have the confidence to give push back.
2. Not planning for risk
“Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.”
Risk is part of the startup DNA, and it is not uncommon for startups to underestimate or ignore threats. Because of the inherent risk of bringing new and disruptive products to market, risk aversion is not part of the #startupculture.
However, when it comes to successful project management, risk should not and cannot be taken for granted. A disciplined project manager assesses all threats to a project with the team and #management and then creates a plan to counter the risk as it arises.
In fact, given all the other risks that startups face (including funding, product launch, and business model sustainability), steps taken to identify and mitigate risk can be more critical for a startup than for a mature business.
3. Ignoring mistakes and deemphasizing Quality Control
“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” ― Henry Ford.
Many startups work at capacity and are in a rush to go to market. But sacrificing quality at the expense of “results” can create a false impression of progress with potentially disastrous consequences.
Startup project managers who are under pressure to deliver on-time often look the other way when faced with poor quality work’s unpleasant reality.
With only one in twenty startups succeeding, one would think that quality should be the number one and number two priority for a startup. Ignoring a mistake does not make it go away.
If one team member finishes fast and is free to work on another project, it will not help the startup if their work causes delays downstream.
Startup project managers should require the same performance level as their team members as project managers in mature and large companies. If a team member is delivering sloppy work, the project manager needs to sit down and deal directly with the issue.
We are only as strong as our weakest link. Replacing a team member who consistently produces sub-par work may not be a popular decision. Still, it could mean the difference between project failure and success.
4. Failing to create a detailed schedule
“I don’t think that scheduling is uncreative. I think that structure is required for creativity.”
Scheduling a project is always hard, but it is especially challenging in a startup environment where people develop new solutions or implement initiatives for the first time.
Without historical data and a team with similar projects in the past, many startup project managers do not have sufficient information to estimate a project duration.
That is why work breakdown structure is essential, even for projects that use Agile project management methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban.
Before starting the project and first sprint, a startup project manager should take the time to break down the project into the smallest activity or task possible.
Let’s not forgot that no matter what methodology you use, it is vital to use a project management tool – whether it be an online project management software, an excel spreadsheet, or even Microsoft Project.
5. Poor resource planning
“You will launch many projects but have time to finish only a few. So think, plan, develop, launch, and tap good people to be responsible. Give them authority and hold them accountable.”
– Donald Rumsfeld
Startup employees tend to multi-task, overcommit, and often burn out. Whereas larger and more mature companies can assign resources (people, equipment, office space) to a project, a startup’s nature requires much more demand for help.
There are two common challenges that startups face when staffing projects. First, because of staff bandwidth constraints, projects lack people with the right qualification to do the work.
Second, even when people have the right qualifications, they do not necessarily have the right experience to perform on task.
To mitigate a lack of resources, startup project managers need to be realistic about what can be achieved with the team that they are given and set expectations with management to make fewer surprises downline.