Project Management Frameworks for Startups



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:
  • Clarity
  • Alignment
  • Focus
  • Execution
  • Accountability

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.

  1. Identification of Deliverables (External & Internal)
  2. Identification of Owners
  3. Identification of Users
  4. Development of Quality Criteria
  5. Commitments
  6. Monitoring
  7. Performance Reporting
  8. After Project Review (APR)

In future posts, we’ll delve into each of the above.

Creatives, Technology, & the Age of Context

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to the live webcast by Chase Jarvis and Robert Scoble where they discussed The Future for Creatives. [The video is not up yet as of today, but it should be soon.] Robert and Chase covered, among other things, the role of technology in the creative process and I’ve been thinking all week about the fact that insight into technical possibilities frequently drives the creative process; especially in the Agency world that I inhabit.

Further, Robert talked much about the exciting technology now is that which works in context. It knows not just who we are and what we like, but where we are, where we are going, and what else we need to do along the way. It is Minority Report and Robert and Shel Isreal are collaborating again on a new book: The Age of Context: How it Will Change Your Life and Work.

I’ll be following along and thinking through the implications for the industry and my clients. I’d suggest you do the same.

And if you are in the Bay Area, Robert will be covering some of this and more on August 21st, 2012 at 6-8pm at Hult Business School.  1355 Sansome St.  Put it on your calendar and watch for the tickets which will go on sale soon.


Facebook Privacy Notice: what to do when viral isn’t good

Seen this little jewel on your Facebook feed yet?

If not, I’m sure you will. And as typical of this type of “information,” it isn’t true. I know I probably shouldn’t be, but I’m shocked at the otherwise technically sophisticated people in my circles that don’t take the time to do even basic research before reposting this drivel. It’s viral in the worst sort of way.

So here’s my recommendation: LMGTFY!

If you haven’t seen this site, it’s worth book marking for all those occasions when someone asks you a question for which they could have easily looked up the answer. Or, in cases like these postings where they should have looked it up before reposting.

Go ahead, test it out and see if it doesn’t put a smile on your face. Here’s the one I’m using for this most recent Facebook disinformation.

Now the only question is whether to use it privately, or deploy it as a public slap-down. Enjoy!


Evolution of the Web

One of my clients sent me this link to a very creative and useful reminder of how the web has evolved – especially in the interaction between browsers and various web technologies. I’d like to see them add the social element in as well in the next edition…

Thanks Netflix! I can use that $180 a year somewhere else!

On Wednesday, Netflix raised prices from 25% to 60%, setting off a tweetstorm of protests from consumers, with many threatening to cancel their subscriptions.

So first a couple of comments on what they did, before I address how they did it and my personal response.

It’s still a free market

Although there is a lot of speculation on why Netflix leadership felt the need to impose such a high percentage increase, we really don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter. Netflix is entirely within its rights to raise prices. And it is a legitimate decision. I once led a consulting project for a bank where we helped their small business customers understand the impact of a price increase on their bottom line and what percentage of customers they could afford to lose and still be more profitable. It is quite an eye-opening experience that I highly recommend.

At the same time the consumers are entirely within their rights to protest the increase and/or cancel their subscriptions. This is the market responding – and what the market says isn’t always what the market does. Financially, Netflix could still walk away with increased profitability. I doubt they’ll walk away with increased good will.

“Didn’t these guys take Psych 101?”

The above quote comes directly from Brad Berens’ insightful post on the same topic. If you read the post announcing this price increase, you can practically smell the condescension and marketing speak. No honest explanation, no humility, no “we know we’ll lose some of you and are sorry to see you go.” It’s almost as bad as the CEO, Reed Hastings’ ill advised NYT’s op-ed piece from 2009 bragging about the “eye-popping amount of money” he is paid and pleading for higher taxes.

Then, when the backlash begins, the entire company collectively sticks its head in the sand. I predict that this is going to inspire dozens of “How not to do social media” case studies within weeks if not days.

“Dear Netflix” is a trending meme on Twitter and there are over 11k comments on Facebook and  5000 comments responding to their blog announcement. It’s been over 48 hours, and there hasn’t been a public response to the backlash on any social media outlet I can find. The last tweet was at 10:22 July 12 announcing the price increase.

In today’s WSJ, Steve Swasey

… a Netflix spokesman, said the company isn’t surprised by customers’ reaction, though he argues the service is still a good deal even with the price increase. “We anticipated hearing from members about their concerns,” he said.

Really? You anticipated this?

Despite his protests to the contrary, these guys clearly did not see this coming and 48 hours late still don’t have a plan to address it. They did do two smart things however.

The first was not turn off the comments. I’m not sure if that is an insightful approach to making sure they receive unfiltered feedback from their consumers, or just a byproduct of having too much sand in their ears. I have my suspicions, but either way it was the right thing to do.

The second thing they did was to make the price increase effective after September 1 for existing customers. There will be some percentage of customers that will wait to cancel their services (since they don’t allow pro-rated refunds) and forget to do so before the deadline.  Not sure it’s a good customer service move, but it will probably help them save a few dollars.

After reflection, maybe one of those is just dumb luck and the other is just calculating. Time will tell.

But what to do?

I’ve been a Netflix customer for years; since shortly after they opened. Often with 2 DVD’s gathering dust for months on top of my VCR. I thought for a while that I would wait and see if there was a rollback on this decision before deciding if I would cancel or not. However, to Brad’s point, upon examining the value I receive vs. what I pay for, I’ll be canceling my account just as soon as this month is out. I already pay for Xfinity, HBO, and Amazon Prime and I barely use Netflix.

Thanks Netflix! Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, I can use that $180 a year somewhere else!