Guide to Project Management for Startups

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As your startup grows and you continue to have more tasks and projects thrown at your feet, there comes a time when project management becomes a necessity. 

We don’t often think about project management in the early stages of a startup company, often because every day consists of “sprinting” as quickly as possible towards achieving our key performance indicators (KPIs) and getting a product or service off the ground. 

The reality is, everyone manages projects in one form or another, even if their official title never reads “project manager.” Whether you’re a creative director, marketer, or software engineer, the process you use to plan each step you’ll take to achieve your business objectives is project management in and of itself. 

Project management is the process of organizing, creating, and executing a plan in order to meet specific business goals and objectives. 

In this guide, we discuss project management for startups and how you can begin to improve your project schedules, complete tasks more efficiently, and ensure all of your critical timelines are met.

Project Management for Startups

When thinking about how you’ll improve and implement project management strategies for startup success, it’s important to note that being a successful project manager involves following stringent rules, principles, and guidelines. 

When you’re juggling multiple projects with tightly-knit delivery dates, there’s limited room for experimentation and error. This is where this guide will come in handy, helping you understand the process that makes a successful project and the steps you can take to start moving in the right direction.

What Is Project Management?

Project management, at its core, is simply the process of steering a project from start to finish and arriving at your final business objectives or at the end of a product’s lifecycle. 

Project management aims to take a primary business objective your startup has and take it through to completion, ensuring it gets completed on time. 

As you can imagine, some projects are more complicated than others and may even involve hundreds or even thousands of moving parts and constantly changing deadlines converging simultaneously. 

As a project manager for your startup, your goal is to juggle all of these moving parts and successfully reach your objectives within the defined delivery period. 

Blockquote: Find the best tools for managing projects with our review of the best project management tools for startups.

The Phases of Project Management

The lifecycle of a project begins when a project is first initiated and ends when the project either gets terminated or is successfully completed. 

Throughout this lifecycle, there are several “phases” that are important to understand and follow to ensure your projects and tasks are being completed on time and efficiently. 

The life cycle begins with project initiation, moves on to project planning, ensuring everyone involved has everything they need to begin. The execution phase then monitors the project's performance as it progresses and moves toward closure.

1. Project Initiation

In the project initiation phase, your startup should begin setting high-level expectations about your goals and business objectives and determining whether or not they’re feasible to complete within your required timelines. 

This is the “kickoff” stage of your project, where you set all of your expectations and determine realistic goals and timelines that will ensure all of your deliverables are completed as efficiently as possible. 

Depending on how your startup is structured, you and your team will present a project management plan to your company’s stakeholders along with a solid business case for the project. 

Once all approvals are underway, and everyone is in the loop, the detailed phase of project planning can begin.

2. Project Planning

In the project planning phase, your startup’s project manager or project management team will set a timeframe for when your major milestones should be completed. Determine what risks can impact your project, and define a strict project scope that’ll be followed during execution. 

A successful project plan will be as detailed and as thorough as possible. You should always break large goals and tasks into smaller milestones to ensure that each task’s duration is realistic for what your team can accomplish. 

Once you’ve completed the project planning phase, your team should have a:

  1. Baseline budget for your project
  2. Realistic schedule
  3. Scope definition document
  4. List of stakeholders

These are the “core” outputs from the project planning phase and will carry you forward into project execution.

3. Execution

Perhaps one of the most important parts of any project management plan is the execution. How well your startup’s various teams execute on your project management plan, including how well they stick to deadlines and milestones, will ultimately determine how your project turns out. 

The most important part of the execution phase is proper communication from the project manager(s) to the team(s) who are responsible for the bulk of the work being done. A good project manager will always communicate clearly and consistently to follow up with the team(s) doing the work and ensure they’re on track and don’t need any help. 

In the execution phase, your company will purchase, acquire, and allocate all of the resources your team(s) need to execute your projects, such as raw materials and resource budgets. 

At the end of the execution phase, you should have all of your project deliverables complete and ready to go.

4. Monitoring Project Performance

The project monitoring and performance phase tends to “blend in” with the execution phase and involves continuous monitoring of the cost, performance, and time that was taken to execute various parts of the project. 

Based on this information, your startup can begin making improvements at every stage of your project and optimizing it for maximum efficiency and cost-effectiveness. 

Throughout the project monitoring phase, project managers will typically send project progress reports and communicate with the necessary stakeholders and team members to ensure the project is completed on time and all deadlines are met.

5. Closure

When a project is complete, and all of the project’s deliverables are ready to be handed over, your project is officially in the “closure” phase. 

In this phase, your startup’s teams will review all of your deliverables and verify that they’re within your quality specifications and are good enough to deliver/use. 

After delivery, you’ve successfully taken a project all the way through the project management lifecycle and delivered the end result.

Hiring Project Managers

As a startup, managing multiple projects simultaneously can be challenging. Perhaps you’re at a point where you have the budget to hire a project manager but aren’t sure where to start or what to look for in the ideal candidate. 

When it comes to hiring the right person who’ll keep your project(s) on track and follow them through to completion, it’s important that you take the time to vet every applicant and truly understand how they’ll be able to help your business with their unique skills. 

Applicants moving into a project management role should ideally have:

  • Several years of project management experience
  • Proven success with previous projects and tasks they’ve followed through to completion
  • Excellent communication skills and verbal skills
  • Strong attention to detail and adherence to budget guidelines your startup sets
  • The ability to resolve conflict and work well with others

It may be difficult to find a candidate that checks all of the boxes, but someone who shows promise and the willingness to learn and push themselves for your organization may be an excellent fit.