August 2, 2017
For early-stage startups ready to begin scaling up, one of the biggest challenges is hiring the right people. The reason is that the vast majority of startups suffer from a lack of brand recognition compared to their larger, more established tech rivals, meaning they can find it difficult to attract and retain the best talent.
But it’s also a challenge because in their early days most tech startups suffer from a severe shortage of resources – both a paucity of the capital required to hire as many new developers, marketers, sales professionals (and, yes, project managers) as the company may need, as well as a shortage of time to dedicate to the hiring process.
Trevor Rishworth, cofounder and CEO of Life Ninja, a London-based tech startup explained it this way:
“Money and time are the two things startups never have enough of. That means startup founders must not only be selective about who they ask to join the team, they must also be selective about the actual roles they’re trying to fill.”
With that in mind, it probably comes as no surprise that early-stage startups are less inclined to employ dedicated project managers than their larger counterparts, because when resources are tight developers almost always take priority.
But is that a mistake?
After all, the launch of a new startup is, if nothing else, a ‘project’, and it goes without saying that entrepreneurs are in fact managing their project whether they use project management methodologies or not. So would it be a wise move for startup founders to carve out the time and money needed to hire a project manager, even if that means postponing the hiring of an additional developer or a digital marketer?
Project Managers Can Offer Value to Early-Stage Startups
Whether they specialize in PRINCE2, scrum, kanban or another project management methodology, project managers can offer businesses, both large and small, a wide range of benefits. For instance:
- Project managers can help speed up the development process (by ensuring everyone is working in the same direction, avoiding tangents and dead ends, and keeping development work on track)
- Project managers can help startups avoid ‘feature creep’ (by ensuring founders and developers stick to the project plan, and only add new features to the plan if there is a clearly defined commercial benefit)
- Project managers can help lower development costs (by avoiding duplication of effort, avoiding tangents and dead ends, and resolving development issues before they get out of hand)
- Project managers can help startups develop more profitable products and services (by ensuring the development process focuses on features and benefits customers actually want)
- Project managers can help development teams avoid unnecessary conflicts (by ensuring everyone is on the same page and developers are not pulling in opposite directions).
Outsource or Upskill?
Still, while it’s clear startups can gain a lot of value from project management methodologies, it may be possible for cash-poor businesses to tap into some of that value without hiring a dedicated project manager.
One possibility is outsourcing the work to a project management consultancy or freelancer, which can sometimes be cheaper than hiring a full time employee.
However, there are a number of downsides with this approach. For instance, external project managers may not have as firm a grasp of the company’s operations and business objectives as an internal team member could have, and will also have less time to spend getting to grips with the company’s products and services than a dedicated in-house project manager.
Another approach, and one that may well be the best option for early-stage tech startups, is upskilling one of the startup’s founders (or several of the founders, if possible) in one or more project management methodologies.
Chris Lamph, Founder and CEO of Knowledge Tree, a London-based edtech startup has seen many startup founders upskill in this way.
“The value of studying a professional project management course is not limited to those who want to develop a career in project management, because these methodologies are invaluable to any business.
“In fact, we’ve had business professionals from any and all disciplines, including startup founders and software developers, study our project management courses – not because they want a career change, but because they want to upskill.”
Whichever approach a company decides to take, whether it’s in-house, outsource or upskill, project management is a powerful tool for businesses of any size, and can help both startups and larger companies become more efficient and effective. But unlike multinationals that may have money to burn, most founders would agree that when it comes to tech startups an effective development process and an efficient use of company resources is not a matter of size, it’s a matter of life and death.
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