10 Project Management Tips for Startups

Being involved in a startup is exciting, even exhilarating. Perhaps for the first time, there is a sense of being completely in charge, but in charge of something that feels slightly out of control. 

Project management techniques are essential for a startup business. Running a successful project will require more than just enthusiasm and flair. The project will need to have a clear scope, a budget and commitment from the team. Here we look at ten of the most useful project management tips for a startup.

1. Win (and keep) clients

What could be more important than winning your first client? Your stunning business idea is futile if you can’t convince a client. Leaving aside the quality of the idea and your own charisma, winning a client is a project in its own right. 

It involves setting goals; such as the kind of client you are trying to win, the anticipated revenue and how much you are willing to spend upfront. It requires a hard look at resources, weighing up the talents and availability of the team. Finally winning a client needs more than just an entrepreneur with a great business idea, it needs input and commitment from the whole team.

2. Set challenging but realistic goals

The first step in any project is to define its goals; to identify the aspects of the project that are important to the business. This could be as mundane as saying it must deliver the agreed scope, on time and within budget. For a startup, however, it is likely to include aspirations towards business growth such as a client list or revenue target.

Goals should be SMART: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable – the goal must be clearly defined so it can be checked later in the project
  • Achievable 
  • Realistic
  • Timebound 

3. Mentors

Looking for a mentor may be anathema to an entrepreneur; that would mean giving away some of the credit for their success. For a startup, however, a mentor may make the difference between success and failure. A person who has been around the block may be able to spot a risk to the business or a flaw in thinking. 

4. Methodology

Choosing a project management methodology is a key step. This will give the project a structure and help the project manager to steer the team. Since the advent of formal project management, many different methodologies have been pioneered (and abandoned). The right methodology will be the one that suits the project, taking account of its complexity, goals and team. 

It’s important to consider the client’s perception too. Project management certification may be an important factor in winning the client, demonstrating that you understand how to deliver a project. A reputable accreditation such as PRINCE2 certification will reassure the client that they will get good regular feedback and ROI.

5. The project management triangle: scope, budget and time 

A project’s scope is the list of features or benefits that it will deliver. These must be clearly defined at the start of the project, by discussion and negotiation with the stakeholders (of which there can be many). 

With a defined scope, the project manager can work with the team to break down the work into tasks and estimate the time required and therefore the cost. These 3 constraints, scope, budget and time are the variables for the project. Increasing scope will increase either cost or time, or both. 

6. Motivate the team

Team members are people, with different motivations. Although financial rewards are important, it’s rarely just about money. Make time to talk one-to-one with the team and understand what inspires them.

7. Communicate clearly

Communication is the cornerstone of project management:

  • Regular progress reports to the client and stakeholders
  • Daily stand-ups with the team to check for issues 
  • Weekly team meetings to share information

8. Be flexible

Flexibility is one of the assets of a startup. As a business grows, it becomes progressively more difficult to change. If business conditions change, a startup can pivot quickly, responding to market opportunities. 

This flexibility extends to project work too. Overcoming a challenge during a project, or recovering from a failed project may mean changing direction.

9. Project management requires focus

A partner in a startup will have many different priorities competing for their time. It’s essential to stay focused on running the project and make this the highest priority. This is especially so for a hands-on person, who likes to carry out tasks on the project personally.

10. Close out

After the project has delivered, the team should get together for a final review meeting. This is an opportunity to reward their hard work and to capture lessons learned. Encourage everyone to contribute.

Be in control

There is plenty of excitement in the roller-coaster environment of a startup; it can seem out of control at times. Following these tips and using a reputable methodology will give the project manager control over the project, supporting them in delivering what the client needs.

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