Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Start Up Tales: Managing The Life Cycle Of Projects

Ahh... Project management; the most important part of managing any bureaucracy, and yet a bureaucracy itself. Ever since, I'd argue, the 00's the role of Project Manager has taken on a life of importance, perhaps more critical than the projects themselves. Ever noticed that one? The one position in the company that manages no one and is not responsible to anyone (although they are responsible to their gant charts and project plans) is driving us, or is it driving us insane? And, with all the eye-rolling and confusion about this role, the poor project manager does have a place - right?

In this post I attempt to talk to the experiences I've had in the start up world about project management. Going forward expect me to chronicle more about my multiple company start-up experiences... Now, on to the story...


In the corporate beginning there was wo/man. A simple being managing his/her daily tasks. Happy. As the start-up evolved, so too did the worker ideal! "You don't do one task, you do them all - then sweep the floors at night", said the manager. The worker was happy to feel needed, but started to wonder about dinner at night, and the workout, and the kids, and her part-time work. Then s/he was asked to work on tasks with other people. Fear! The amount of work loaded up more and more... The manager decided to add to his/her day a new co-worker, the project manager. "They will solve our problem by, holding, I mean, accounting for your tasks...", said the manager. Thus a project manager was created. Out of multiple tasks and one master, came even more tasks and two masters. Perhaps you have the same story, or maybe yours starts with a quote like this: we don't know, what we don't know... A comment like this is where project management can shine - right?!?

In either case, when is a project manager needed in a start-up company? In the book, Project Management: A Systems Approach To Planning, Scheduling, And Controlling, Harold Kerzner outlines some of the "key differences" between large company and small company project management:
  • In small companies, the project management and line manager may have to be the same person doing the same thing at the same time - personally, I like this. Ask yourself, do project managers really need their own office in a start up? 
  • In a small company, the project manager has to manage multiple projects, each with differing priorities - again, I'd vote for this type of project manager. 
  • In a small company, the project manager has limited resources - well, welcome to a small company dude! 
  • In a small company, project managers must have better interpersonal skills than in a large company - stop yelling at me! 
  • In a small company, project managers do not have their own office - a given, and if not, a concern, in my opinion. 
And then there's the big one: in small companies, projects are eliminated with ease... And so is the project manager?!? 




Thus, to summarize this post, the project manager role is needed only as much as the projects demand - right?!? In other words, and managers listen up, project management is not required, unless your projects demand it. The projects should determine the role... And how have I seen this role develop at small technology companies:
  1. There is that "one guy/gal" who knows how to get people to want to get things done... This type of person may exist in your organization, maybe not. The point is that this personality will/can/might/should fit into this role nicely. The person typically falls into the role and thus a multi-hat project manager is born.
  2. Your project is just too damn big (YPTDB)... In this case, you find your project isn't cohesive, there is no central owner, and goals aren't being met. I'd hire a project manager here.
  3. Management says so! Probably the most concerning or best bet! It is all about trust here folks...
Before you hire a project manager, or any position for that matter, and especially before you layer on bureaucracy remember the words of many corporate thinkers: constraint creates innovation... I heard that first in the book Good To Great, and then read this blog about our 15,000 thoughts a day... Hmm... 

Thank you to http://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/201167316/ for the awesome picture.
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