One of the hardest things I had to do when first getting started with my business was getting organized. Not having an MBA, the first year of leading my startup was the most hectic as well as the biggest ego buster of my life. However, after startup life punched me in the face, I took a step back and realized the importance for me and every other founder to learn basic product management skills.
Today, I prioritize project management first, as that most directly affects deliverables -- but most startup leaders still don’t understand the basic components of leading a product team. Do you?
It’s no secret that the life of project managers are intense -- they essentially function as the CEO of their team, making sure that everything gets done at the right time in the right way. They are constantly checking in on team members, reminding stakeholders of requirements, managing crises and roadblocks, ensuring that everything is in place for next steps and fostering innovation among their reports.
However, even if you hire an experienced project manager, they can’t do everything. Here are the most common project management mistakes that startups make:
1. Picking project managers out of convenience, not skill or qualifications.
When your company is first getting started, it’s not uncommon for team members to “fall” into roles as is convenient, without any formal vetting process. While this may work initially, it’s important that as you scale, you ensure project managers understand the process and are able to command both respect and attention. Additionally, they should have personalities that lend themselves well to the stresses of this position -- if they’re easily frazzled, frequently forget details or are uncomfortable talking to a variety of people, it won’t be a fit.
If you have a project manager who is struggling, but motivated to improve and wants to stick with his or her current role, all is not lost. Invest in training for this individual and help him or her get a PMP certification. The skills the manager learns in these programs will serve as tools to help him or her achieve success.
2. Letting communication fall apart.
It doesn’t matter how skilled your project manager is -- if there is no clear communication protocol, his or her job will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
The first step is investing in communication tools, such as instant messengers, company emails and, if relevant, an intranet where data can be stored and referred to. These communication platforms should be easily searchable and allow for file transfers. Talk to your team about software they have experience with and any recommendations they have -- after all, if they aren’t comfortable using the software, you may as well not buy it.
Next, make sure that it’s clear who to talk to about what. This may mean making a map of which team members are experts, and who is in charge of what, from product leads to executives. This can be an incredibly effective step in cutting down on the “grapevine” style of communication that so frequently plagues disorganized companies.
3. Not locking in requirements or scope.
If requirements or scope of projects frequently change, you can’t blame team members for not taking them seriously. Half the battle in product management is communicating to your development team what the client wants in terms of product scope, not just the overall vision. While telling clients “no” is always difficult, it’s critical that you do so to preserve your project management protocols.
If you find that you frequently have to challenge clients who change requirements partly through the project development cycle, it may mean that your initial kickoff protocol is in need of improvement. Make sure that you have a comprehensive interview process for each client, and that each team member involved in the kickoff phase is familiar with it and why each question is important.
4. Being overly aggressive/unrealistic with timelines.
Similarly to changing requirements, consistently unrealistic timelines and deadlines will cause your teams to doubt whether those deadlines are actually important. If deadlines are consistently pushed back or canceled, it will become expected, which essentially removes the factor of a deadline from your employee’s minds entirely.
If you’re constantly pushing back deadlines, your team complains that they’re overly rushed or both, it may be time for a project management overhaul. Consider implementing systems of time estimation, such as Scrum, and using vetted management methodologies, such as Agile.
As you grow into them you’ll find there are areas that you’ll need to customize, but starting with a popular methodology for your industry will provide a plug-and-play solution that will put you on the right path towards proper organization.