I love startups. I love the unbounded optimism and energy of the founders. I love the focus, drive, grit and determination of the teams. I love watching a team coalesce around the objective; growing, pushing one another, learning from their mistakes. And while I might not love it, I even embrace the pre-funded constraint of growing a business with no cash because it demands innovation and creativity.
And when a team is successful, it grows. And when it grows it has to begin to scale, requiring new people, refined roles, better communication, and even better alignment and focus on the objective.
The question then becomes, “How do I effectively lead this transition?”
Let’s start with an observation. There is almost no activity in a startup that cannot be viewed as a project. Payroll and Accounting might be options, but these can easily be outsourced because they require no innovation. Everything else has a starting point and a finish line, and is by definition, a project. The prototype, the launch plan, the marketing plan, hiring the next engineer, building the website, even obtaining the first round of funding can, and I propose should be, viewed as a project.
Why? Because the role of operations is to efficiently manage day-to-day activities in the pursuit of meeting financial projections. Projects are about effectively aligning resources to achieve specific objectives. And there are far more specific objectives than day-to-day activities in a start up. And because there are many adaptable tools in project management that are designed to lead just such transitions.
Project Management Approaches vs. Project Management Frameworks
There are lots of project management approaches available; waterfall, Agile, Extreme, PRINCE2, CBPM, and more other acronyms and types than anyone can comprehensively cover. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and each was developed by a team of people with a specific culture, business model, economic requirements, and acceptable risk quotient.
In other words, unless your culture, business model, requirements demands and risk quotient line up perfectly, there are likely to be portions of the approach that won’t suit the needs of your startup. Furthermore, these approaches are by definition comprehensive and will unavoidably contain policies and procedures that are counter to the fast moving world of the startup.
On the other hand, a Project Management Framework (PMF) is a philosophical guide, a way to frame all projects with a minimum effective control structure. An effective PMF provides for the establishment and reinforcement of five things:
While every PMF is different (because it takes into account the culture, business model, economic requirements, risk quotient, stakeholder expectations, etc…) it will define a project as a minimum of the following eight steps and provide tools and techniques to support them.
- Identification of Deliverables (External & Internal)
- Identification of Owners
- Identification of Users
- Development of Quality Criteria
- Performance Reporting
- After Project Review (APR)
In future posts, we’ll delve into each of the above.