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Common Project Management Mistakes in Start-Ups

Startups face an immense amount of pressure compared to established companies. No matter the size, most organizations face the dilemma of juggling too many priorities and not enough resources to get it all done. But finding this balance is almost always more acute in early-stage companies. In addition to limited resources, startup’s have the added pressure of competing in a new market and developing brand awareness. Startup leaders need to delicately balance where their time and money are spent to make the most out of their limited budget. The key – to the best profitability, project success, growth, and customer retention – is to use best practices in managing complex projects with limited resources. Let’s consider some of these common startup miss-steps when managing projects.

Not incorporating risk into your projects

Constant change is a reality we have all learned to embrace. And every change introduces new risks and uncertainty that will impact your project plan if not acknowledged and addressed. These include such things as:

  • Shifting priorities
  • Supply chain issues
  • Competitive pressures
  • Customer orders increasing or decreasing
  • Personnel changes

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While it’s impossible to account for all of the risks before they happen, a great project manager will consider the possibilities and have a mitigation plan ready to deploy as needed. This level of flexibility is critical for startups that will have even more uncertainty to manage than established companies.

Before starting a new project, incorporate contingency planning to prepare for those inherent project risks.

Mismanagement of resources 

Startups don’t have the luxury of mismanaging their time and energy. In fact, running out of funding stands out as the second most prominent reason startups fail (29% of cases).1 Resources can be any number of things from capital expenditures to equipment. Human capital is another potential ‘resource’, but we’ll cover that in the next section. The most critical thing startups need to do before they begin using their precious resources is to align on priorities. Understanding which projects are more vital than others can help the team decide where their money is spent and which projects get access to those resources first. Time and energy may be spent across all priorities and projects if priorities are not clear. In this case, none of those priorities likely gets accomplished in time. Resource planning tools like LiquidPlanner can help teams understand resource constraints and ensure everyone is on the same page about priorities. Software solutions like LiquidPlanner can help you know when projects will be completed and when resources are available for reassignment to other priorities.

Be realistic about time management

Your employees are likely stretched very thin if you’re a startup leader. It is crucial to ensure your team is working on the right priorities at the right time with limited resources. But it’s equally important to create and maintain a balanced workload so your team doesn’t suffer from burnout. When everything is #1, your workers will feel the added pressure and stress of constant looming deadlines. Working like this isn’t sustainable long-term and, if left unchecked, will result in talent loss. Employees are more productive when they feel cared for and when workloads are realistic. Competition for talent is fierce right now; the great resignation has resulted in a competitive environment to find and acquire talent. A recent Forbes article stated that it takes eight to twelve weeks to replace a typical knowledge worker and one to two months before someone can get up to speed and start producing meaningful work in their place.2 That’s nearly six months of lost productivity before fully replacing a single employee. Having regular check-ins with your team on their projects is a great way to ensure your team is working on the right priorities and not feeling overwhelmed with their workload. Deploying software that captures tasks, makes the most of your valuable time, and manages critical resources is an even better way of caring for and ensuring your team remains happy and productive.

Over Reliance on certifications

Some startup leaders may want to hire a certified PMP to help manage their projects to ensure on-time delivery. But PMP certification is no guarantee of experience or success in managing complex projects. To manage projects most effectively, you need a blend of experience, strong resource management, financial acumen, and entrepreneurial drive. And if the projects are in an IT environment, it is essential – in terms of credibility, estimating, leadership, and decision-making – that the project managers have a technical background. 

Some startups try to build their PM infrastructure solely based on certified PMs. Besides the fallacy that certifications translate to higher capability, I believe that a lean startup is far better enabled if all employees are hired with the expectation that project management skills will be central to their and the overall teams’ success.It’s not that PM certification is bad but making it THE priority for correctly managing your projects isn’t the most effective strategy to get things done. Which brings us to our final folly of investing in project management software.  

Not investing in project management tools

Great project management skills are the key to delivering your projects on time and within budget. Having a skilled project manager is a great start, but the right software expands and extends the skillset and impact of any individual on the whole team.  Good software can help capture plans, prioritize work, assign tasks, estimate timelines, and then reveal problems before they occur. Project management software is genuinely affordable when you consider the inevitable delays, talent turnover, unmanaged risk, and constant change-induced stress that is reduced with the software. In fact, software that solves these problems enables teams to deliver on time, take on more work and significantly enhance the workplace and team satisfaction. 

LiquidPlanner has a free trial plan that can help get you started. The software is designed to automate the burdensome task of constant updates caused by change and shifting priorities. I’ve witnessed teams move from struggling to deliver consistently, to delivering more than they thought possible.  In fact, LiquidPlanner makes the bold promise that when deployed, their software can predict when work will be done with 90% confidence, enabling teams to take on more. 

The bottom line – startups must be careful how they manage their resources and time. Project management software can help solve many of these common missteps I stated above. Try LiquidPlanner for free today to see what I mean, if you haven’t already. 

Readers – what are your thoughts? Have you been part of a fast-growing startup? What PM infrastructure problems did you encounter? How did you overcome common growth problems?

Footnotes

  1. https://www.cbinsights.com/research/startup-failure-reasons-top/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2019/05/09/the-cost-of-turnover-can-kill-your-business-and-make-things-less-fun/?sh=43e393fb7943

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