Startup Lessons: Project Management (5-10)

For the past 6 months I had the opportunity to be a Project Manager at Ubiqua. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far…

On Managing the Project

“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.” – Aristotle


  1. Managing a Project is HARD.

It’s true. Basic PM (Project Management) Principles focus on the rigorous execution of routine tasks. You communicate timelines and clarify deliverables to all stakeholders. You define milestones and manage progress. You oversee the parallel execution of tasks along a ‘Critical Path’. You can’t let a single task, email, or deadline fall through the cracks. Doing all these things successfully is difficult. You need to be hyper-organized; mentally in-tune with multiple moving parts. You need to be hyper-communicative; communicating more often than less. You need to feel like a grand-schemer; carefully making strategic moves to successfully achieve a final goal.


  1. Keep your information in order.

A good PM keeps their client’s information in order. When it comes to your Client, imagine you’re Google. Your mission is to “Organize your Client’s information and make it accessible and useful”. This is a key part of being an effective PM. You don’t need to know everything off the top of your head, (you should at least know the # of active users), but you’ll need to be able to quickly find the information you need.


Keep track of the basics. Your users, your PoCs, the client team, their cell phones, emails, roles, etc. In addition to that, keep the project status and timelines in order. Don’t forget, Information = Power. By having everything in order you’ll be better equipped to manage your project, delegate, coordinate responsibilities and manage your team effectively.


  1. Map & Own The Critical Path.

An effective PM has a solid understanding of the Project’s Critical Path (here’s a Wiki-Explanation). Your critical path, by definition, represents the shortest possible time to complete the project. Mapping out the Critical Path helps you have a tight handle on the due dates of your project’s tasks.


This is where it gets tricky. If you know your project Critical Path, then you understand that the tasks on the path CANNOT fall behind schedule. If they do, they push the entire project behind days, even weeks, which are difficult to recover later on. By mapping out the CP early on, you can work to ensure that enough attention and resources are given to those activities that are key to your project’s success.


In one of my experiences, the single most important task on the Critical Path was obtaining new equipment for the implementation of our project. Almost all other things I could work in parallel, but I couldn’t get started until the new equipment had arrived. We missed our equipment date by a month, and unfortunately had to push back the entire project schedule a month back. The project delay could have easily been avoided if I had a better control of the Project’s Critical Path.


  1. Anticipate Obstacles.

At each stage of your project, try to anticipate the most significant obstacle that can impede progress. It might be not having the right data on hand, it might be missing equipment, it might even be a lack of ownership on the client’s side. Whatever it is, work hard to overcome these obstacles and mitigate the risks they represent to your project’s success.


  1. Avoid Sequence Dependence Steps.

Part of managing a project is understanding the impact sequence-dependent and independent tasks. As the amount of sequence-dependent tasks increases, the variability and complexity increases as well. The lesson here is to avoid setting up sequence-dependent tasks, and when possible turn them into linear independent tasks. The idea is to allow you to work multiple things in parallel. By managing multiple tasks in parallel, you can shorten the total completion time of the project.


On one of my projects we were requested to do some in-person needfinding with a group of potential users. If we concluded they were potential users, we would then proceed to order equipment and train them. The dependency was that we couldn’t place a purchase order for new equipment until we were certain that they could use our sales tool. The needfinding was delayed by a week. The approval to purchase new equipment was delayed another week as well. Thus the purchase of the new equipment was delayed as well, pushing our project back 2 to 3 weeks until the new equipment had arrived.


  1. Bring Things into your Locus of Control.

According to our brilliant scholars at Wikipedia, Locus of Control refers to “the extent to which individuals believe they can control events affecting them”. Locus of Control is a constant battle PM’s will have to face.

A project’s uncertainty comes from the things we don’t know, or better put, the tasks we can’t influence.  Sometimes it’s because these tasks are someone’s else’s responsibility. Sometimes we can’t influence them because we don’t know how. It is our job as a PM to identify the these sources of uncertainty and address them. We must identify which parts of the project depend on us and which depends on others. Once we identify what depends on our client team, we must try to facilitate or support them with their responsibilities. As a PM, the ability to control the progress of your project will be the fundamental to your project’s success.

That’s it for now. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Cheers till next time!


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