Project management in start-ups

There is no such thing as "the" project management; project management exists in a wide variety of forms and manifestations. Even if the techniques and methods are broadly similar, certain approaches differ depending on the environment in which projects are carried out. In a start-up, project management is a particular challenge because there are usually not enough resources to employ experienced project managers. Nevertheless, there are deadlines, budgets are very tight and the quality must be right because otherwise the start-up has no chance of a future. Especially the first projects of a start-up are usually very exciting - and also tense.
A large office space. Two people are in the background.

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Pragmatic approach

At the beginning of every start-up there are extraordinary new ideas that are to be implemented in the form of ambitious projects. These first projects of a young, aspiring company already decide whether the company will last or become a flash in the pan. Failure at the beginning is not an option - money is usually too tight for that and the expectations of investors or supporters too high. Professionalism at all levels is therefore the top priority for a start-up. Often it is difficult for a start-up that it has not yet established any fixed structures and resources are often very limited. In addition, there is often a lack of experience. All this must be compensated by zeal and enthusiasm. Anyone who wants to make a project in a start-up a success must therefore approach their tasks as pragmatically and professionally as possible. If there is hardly any time for learning and trying out extensive analyses and methods, the goal must be achieved in another way. Results must be achieved with the least possible effort, so efficiency is required. There is a fine line between "not wasting time with complicated methods" and "working professionally and creatively". Even though it can be tempting in this context: Never forget to look into project management, because projects play an important role in the new role.

Project management for beginners

As CEO of a start-up, you need to convince your clients that you have everything under control and that you handle your projects professionally, possibly even more so than established companies have to do. That means project management is important for you. Don't be put off by thick tomes, treatises and collections of methods. Look for an approach that is practical and can be applied quickly. Most methods can be simplified enough to be used by beginners. Follow the guidelines of project management: define goals and tasks very precisely, create a time schedule, an overview of resources and define the desired quality. Record your decisions and document important steps in the project. Set priorities and evaluate everything you do at regular intervals. Communicate closely with your stakeholders and always let them participate in decisions and important milestones. This not only avoids undesirable developments, but also keeps the relationship with the client at a level that can be important for the success of the project. Show that you are committed and give the client the feeling that they are always in control. To be prepared for contingencies, you should also do a risk analysis. You can do this strictly according to professional methods, or simply answer the question "What can go wrong, how bad can it get and what can we do to prevent it?" in a very pragmatic and informal way.

Tools and methods

Hundreds of programmes and tools have already been developed for good and professional project management. Ultimately all methods and techniques can also be worked on with a pen and a piece of paper. Especially in a start-up, it is important not to spend money on expensive software if it is not yet clear whether the method is the right one for the company. Your risk analysis, goal definition and time planning can be done just as well with very simple tools. Sit down with your team and record your ideas and results on paper. Work actively with to-do lists, diagrams and ideally also with a concise project diary. Try to keep track of the team, the budget and the project in general by using simple means to track high-quality results. If a method seems too complicated, don't waste too much time. Choose a simpler method and get started. Once the first projects have been successfully completed, you and your team can attend a training session to learn the methods theoretically, perfect or professionalise them.

Final thoughts

The fact that there are usually only very limited human resources in a start-up often means countless hours of overtime, but it also has the advantage that the important steps are stored in one or two heads and that the important hurdles are taken by exactly these people. The first projects in a start-up are excellent for gaining high-quality experience in project management and laying a foundation.

Project management in start-ups  - The IAPM Logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Start-ups

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