Project Management Tools for Startups

In project selection, many companies employ intricate strategies, rubrics, or other grading scales to determine whether a project aligns with strategy, resources, or current goals of the firm. Many of these processes are well engrained with larger organizations, but on the trajectory between startup and global firm, where do formal project management processes begin?

The strategic management within startup organizations is often traced to a founder or current CEO. Inevitably, the current leader must ensure that the management can both “respond to changes in the external environment,” as well as “allocate scarce resources of the firm to improve [the company’s] competitive position,”[1] keeping projects within scope, on budget, and on time. As a business begins to grow, formalities and preferences may develop – but may not necessarily be aligned with best practices in project management. Along with defining the strategic vision, a competent founder should also have knowledge of our resources pertaining to different project management models: net present value, payback, or perhaps even multi-weighted scoring charts. While a founder may not use more-commonly known project management terms like “pearls” and “oysters,” the argument could be made that a founder may have the keenest sense (among the management team) of early-stage strategic alignment and organizational development., an entrepreneurial commentary by Oren Ellenbogen, argues that many project management tools are simply not aligned with startup culture. Instead of an external program or cloud service that can include “tasks hierarchy to the 5th level,” Ellenbogen argues that startups need the culture itself and the hands-on experience that permits adjustments: the tangibility that answers “the question… not how fast you are able to deliver things but how fast you are able to learn that you’re delivering the wrong things and make the adjustments.”[2] While this commentary makes a number of generalizations, it does speak to a larger concern: when running a startup company with limited resources, what kind of solution would benefit rather than detract from organizational growth? Startup purists may point to processes such as Steve Blank’s Lean Startup methodology[3], while tech-centric firms may look for another startup offering expertise in project management. The options are numerous and the marketplace clamors with overabundance.

Jake Gibson, founder of NerdWallet, gives an example of startup growth and project management options in Entrepreneur Magazine, guiding founders toward examples of success.[4] Notably, Gibson encourages founders to avoid “tool-itus” and to examine the longer-term costs of free or temporary project management solutions. In his example of options that have worked successfully for NerdWallet, Gibson shows the progression of using Trello, then later migrating to Kanban Tool. Gibson gives a threshold for formal project management, noting that, “keeping track of collaboration on various projects and product development becomes essential when you grow from more than a dozen employees.”[5]

On the spectrum of start-up to global firm, where have you seen formal project management processes (or software solutions) implemented? What was successful and what was not?


[1] In-class presentation; Ch. 2-5






3 thoughts on “Project Management Tools for Startups

  1. This is such a great topic! While my company is far from a startup, we do share some of the characteristics you’ve mentioned – scarce resources and lack of strategic vision. I have dreams of implementing a few project management tools to improve our daily operations, but you bring up a very valid point. The tools are useless without a greater vision and understanding of the goals of the company and/or individual projects. It’s natural for people to look for shortcuts and unfortunately with all of the tools available today it is very easy to catch a case of “tool-itis”, as you call it. It is important to have some sort of vetting of tools before they are introduced, otherwise the tools can consume resources instead of freeing them.

  2. I can relate to this Article’s essence, even I am working in one start up business, where we are developing mobile Apps and though this is side business for everybody so it gets easy to lose track or speed and lack of co-ordination, and therefore I thought of employing Project Management tools to be on track but I realized when you are working on start up; It more important use check points- Right focus? and more than deadline risk management tools as well as scarce resources planning plays a big role. and it is interesting to know these new tools and identify start up difficulties from Project Management perspective.

  3. While I currently work at a large company, I used to work in a small company that had fallen victim to “tool-itus”. They simply had too many tools that they insisted on us using even when those systems didn’t add value above and beyond basic, free services. The company was small and had a strategic vision they just didn’t incorporate that vision into their use of systems well. Just an example of a small company getting to a successful point where they can afford project management systems and buy them even though they truly didn’t need them.

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