Startup Project Management

If you are small business or startup or working with one in a PM role  - you likely realize (or will come to realize) that you need some standardized practices to succeed. You need processes in place, or at least someone to champion some initiatives that are in place or upcoming. How do you do that on a very limited budget? Let’s look into this further.

Why the limitation? Why the limitations? That’s probably obvious. The small business or startup isn’t likely going to create a full-fledged PMO. They aren’t likely going to even bring on a full-time Project Manager. It’s much more probable that an existing staff member, application developer, or development manager will need to act in the role of Project Manager. Ultimately, this makes no one very happy, but it can work. Let’s look at the roles of a PM, considering the small business environment and see how this is likely to play out.

PM roles. The primary responsibilities of a Project Manager are:

  • Creating and delivering the weekly status reporting
  • Leading status meetings
  • Maintaining the project schedule
  • Managing the project budget
  • Managing the resources and resource forecasting
  • Managing ongoing project communications
  • Issues and risks tracking
  • Scope and change management

Another role somewhat associated with the PM, is requirements gathering. However, I do not see this as a PM responsibility. This is primarily a responsibility of the Business Analyst. The fact that it needs to be done and progress of this activity will be tracked falls under the project schedule and status reporting responsibilities of the PM, but requirements gathering as a task is not the PM’s responsibility.

The startup or small business. So, in the small business or startup environment, how does this work get performed on a shoe-string budget? You can’t bring in a PM consultant if you have little to no budget allowed for it. A good PM for a 6 month project running part-time will run you anywhere from $20k - $60k and that is if the PM is working directly with the startup and not through an agency that is tacking on other fees. This is assuming no travel and only about half-time involvement. If a small firm has no money really to set aside for this activity, then it will just have to milk its current resources – like the development manager – for all they’re worth and beg them to take on the PM role as well.

Therefore, something has to give. What is it? First off, it’s not likely that a project schedule and budget will be maintained at a very detailed or regular level or even at all. The borrowed PM resource will likely need to rely on detailed meeting notes and agendas together with a weekly status report to track project progress and plan for upcoming project tasks. It will also serve as the primary communication method for project team members to know what is expected of them in the coming 1-2 week timeframe.

Consequences. What consequences will likely be realized from this approach? I’ve seen this route taken – and it can work to some degree. What usually happens is a schedule that slides. Not to the degree of what happens when no Project Management is applied. But it will slide. And the customer will experience some degree of frustration – it could be a lot, but with an experienced technical resource at the helm hopefully that will be minimized.

One more thing that can suffer considerably is scope management. If the scope continues to change because it is not being managed well, then the likely result is unrealized revenue for the delivery team organization, a schedule that slides, and a customer that probably gets free work that would normally be out of scope. The customer won’t be overly happy because they don’t really realize that they’re getting free stuff. They’re more aware of the fact that the schedule was sliding. And that makes a customer unhappy.

Summary / call for input

The bottom line is this - it’s best to engage a Project Manager whenever possible – even if it’s a limited, part-time oversight situation. The struggling small business or startup can realize significant benefit beyond the immediate profit margin in future continued business with existing clients and positive information floating around among other potential customers. That is nearly priceless.

What about our readers? Have you been hired by a small business or startup to run project management for them? Do you have experiences here to share and discuss?

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