The Internet is overflowing with stories of how often and why startups fail. It could have been that your products or services didn’t stand up to the competition, a partner’s ego, a dysfunctional team or just a string of bad luck. Suffice to say, there are a host of reasons startups fail but understanding why some don’t is key here.
Here we will leave behind the lamenting and make a proposition: effective project management gives a startup a fighting chance of making it past the first year. Yes, a startup needs a flash of brilliance, a committed team and luck, but these factors need to be complemented by a solid project management strategy.
Here are 10 of our top tips…
1. Use SMART Goals
Defining business goals is the critical first step. Even the most magnificent of product ideas needs fleshing out with what and when. This will assist in defining the scope of the product and communicating it to the team, financiers and customers. You will need to do some hard thinking.
SMART goals are:
- Specific – defining exactly what will be achieved or delivered
- Measurable – meaning results can be assessed and compared
- Achievable – giving the team a challenge that they can deliver
- Relevant – to the product and the business
- Time bound – committing to a completion date
2. Apply a Project Management Methodology
Effective project management needs to be underpinned by an established, structured and yet flexible project management methodology. There are several different methodologies that have evolved over time, according to the needs of various sectors. The most comprehensive and widespread is PRINCE2, which has been tuned on real projects over decades and is backed-up by a globally recognised courses and recently updated methodology.
It’s vital to choose an end-to-end methodology that works for the product and the team and to follow it through. A common mistake is to implement only parts of a methodology – those that seem easy – and abandoning the rest. Paying lip service to the technique will surely risk project failure.
Project Management needs effective communication. It’s easy to assume that because the team is in the same room that everyone will share information. They won’t.
Set up regular team meetings, just for ten minutes at the start of each day, for team members to say where they are, highlight any issues and what they are going to work on. Giving everyone the opportunity to speak will build commitment in the team.
Video and phone communication is essential for remote workers, but they may feel more comfortable using a messaging app for non-urgent questions. Be clear which apps are OK to use in the team and what information it’s OK to share.
4. Project Planning
Once the project’s goals have been defined, it needs to be planned. The scope (functionality, product features) is confirmed and milestones and tasks are defined. A Gantt chart or similar tool will show where there are task dependencies and critical path. A tip here is to build flexibility into the plan, allowing room for adjustment if tasks overrun.
5. Map out Risks
Project risks need to be assessed at an early stage, and repeatedly during the project. PRINCE2 considers each risk according to the probability of occurrence and the impact if it does happen. It’s easy to burn time overthinking risks. Stick to what’s genuinely relevant to the project and be decisive about how the project will mitigate it.
The team needs to know what is “acceptable” quality. Defining product quality early in the project will allow quality to be measured and non-conformities rectified during development, avoiding a nasty surprise at the end. This also applies to ancillary material such as documentation and testing plans. A tip here is to agree on a definition of “done” which each team member will follow.
It’s vital to track the progress of the project. This involves measuring – tasks, bugs and deliverables. Anything that can be quantified can be measured and therefore checked. Try to make capturing measurements a “free” by-product of the team’s work. While closing a task, capture the time taken and the task status. These can be rolled up into project reporting.
Set up regular reviews for the project. Set a default agenda to give a shape to the meeting and give everyone the opportunity to speak. The review should cover progress – hopefully with product demos – issues and resolutions. Check the risk log and re-assess any risks that have changed.
9. Close out
Closing out the project is a special kind of review. It’s an opportunity to consider how well the project went and to learn lessons for the future. Make it a positive experience for the team and invite everyone to give individual feedback. What went well, what didn’t and how it could be done better next time.
10. Be one of the 10%
Implementing the right project management methodology, and sticking with it, will give a startup the best possible chance of making it through the first year. Now, do you have the flash of brilliance to go with it?