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