Startup Lessons: Project Management (11-15)

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 People


“I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can be very often traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people.” –  Thomas J. Watson, Jr


“Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.” – Walt Disney


  1. Managing People is VERY HARD.

If managing projects weren’t difficult enough, managing people is a much more difficult task. People aren’t cold and calculated like machines or plans. They have thoughts and feelings; fears and ambitions. The challenges of managing people are different from managing projects. Managing people successfully is a matter of leadership. In order to motivate your team you need to empathize with them and understand their ambitions and concerns. You need to align people to a common goal; managing the emotional peaks and valleys along the way. You need to deal with poor performance and energize your troops when things get tough. And once the final goal has been achieved, you need to recognize and reward those who contributed to the project’s success.


  1. Most of your problems will be People Problems. (Not Project Problems)

You’re not managing robots. We manage people. People have interests, fears, and strengths. We do our best to understand our project team and inspire them to achieve great levels of performance. Most of the issues we will deal as Project Managers concern motivation, ownership, initiative, and responsibility. Many of the logistical/process problems you’ll face are really people problems in disguise.


People not delivering in time can be a lack of prioritization. Deliverables not meeting standards can be a problem of communication and clarity. Projects that are stuck can be caused by a lack of initiative by the team; where people are tossing responsibilities at each other. As a PM you will need to support your team in solving their problems. And you will have to give them ownership and autonomy so that they are empowered to deliver exceptional results.


Most importantly, when faced with a project problem, avoid rushing to implement new tools and metrics to manage the project. You most likely don’t need them. Instead, first diagnose the human factors at play. Dig deep to understand the people problems that are causing the setbacks on your progress.


  1. Manage your Team’s Priorities.

As a PM, you’ll often face the challenge of Prioritization; or lack thereof. The classic problem is this. You need different things from different people. You are none of them’s boss. They have other things to do as well. So you are none of their priorities. Because you are not their boss, you face the challenge of exercising the authority to determine what needs to be done. Being second to last priority makes getting their attention, effort and time a constant struggle.


You’ll have to get creative here. You can use hierarchy and have their boss make things a priority, which will lead to short sparks of productivity that usually die out quickly. You can create incentives for them, to try to make it “worthwhile” to help move your project forward. You can try to leverage goodwill or do good things for them (help them out with a problem of their own) so that they feel driven to help you back. Whatever approach you take, always remember that if your project isn’t a priority, don’t expect anything to get done.


  1. Manage their Motivation.

You need to understand what motivates each of your team members. To do this, spend some time to get to know them, their ambitions and their priorities. Delegate responsibilities and tasks that fall within their interests and priorities. Try to answer the question “What’s in it for them?”. Learning to communicate a value proposition that satisfies their needs and motivations will make it easier to earn the buy-in of your team.


  1. Do not trade Efficiency for Effectiveness.

The ultimate goal of a PM is to get the job done. The second sub-goal is to get it done efficiently; in the least time & resources possible. As a PM, do not let an aim for efficiency get in the way of getting shit done. For example, you might think that a weekly email gets the trick done, but really it just ends up unread in a flooded inbox. A phone call or even a monthly progress meeting can be more effective ways to discuss project progress with your team.


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

Cheers till next time!


2 thoughts on “Startup Lessons: Project Management (11-15)

  1. Getting your team into “alignment with common goal” … don’t say that too fast – it takes more skill than one might think. It means finding a sound linkage for the individual’s motivations with a larger, often more distant goal. Here’s where you find payoff to the sensitivity you have worked on to the individual’s personal issues.

    • Great point GM. 100% agree that organizational and team alignment is an emotional endeavour, which requires an emotionally intelligent and empathetic approach. Thanks for the insight!

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