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Last night my husband and I were changing the smoke detector batteries in our house. As I’m standing on the ladder, my husband asks me to pop out the globe on the nearby light fixture so he could clean it. As a project manager, I laughed – since I knew that cleaning out the light fixtures had never been a part of this little project. See how easily project scope can expand?

There is no question that my husband and I were collaborating. But does good collaboration equal good project management? The answer is no. Good collaboration is not enough.

In a start-up, project teams often collaborate quite well. They are young and excited. What they are doing has meaning for them. They work tirelessly to acquire new customers, requiring that they offer something that meets the customer’s needs. Good collaboration can delude them into thinking that they are managing their projects.

For startups, particularly technology startups, project work and operations can run together. After all, those projects to improve your product offerings are the core of your operations. True project management gives startups a structure for evaluating an ever-increasing list of project ideas.

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Here are five areas of project work that need management. Good collaboration is great. But it is not the same thing as good project management. For startups, the difficulty of obtaining funding and the need to meet investors’ expectations means that project management is essential.

1.     Scope – Scope management requires a clearly defined scope, a process for evaluating the ideas that people propose, and relentless focus.

Obviously, cleaning one extra light fixture was not going to throw our project off kilter; however, if we had cleaned every nearby light fixture as we replaced a dozen smoke detector batteries, we would have been eating breakfast instead of dinner when we finished.

2.     Money – Tracking costs by activity will help you spot scope creep or rogue efforts that are not adding value.

When I work on smaller projects, it is easy to skip thinking about costs. I have to remind myself that time is money. Highly paid contractors, left unchecked, can throw your project in the red quickly. When a project is going to require $25k in hard dollars and labor in excess of $1M, it is a mistake to think of it is as a small project.

When income is factored into project budgets, it may help firms assess project profitability, client profitability, and team member effectiveness.

3.     Quality – Think through and plan for the quality that you want on deliverables to help you understand your costs.

Experts understand that it is cheaper to build in quality from the beginning than to repair quality. Ask yourself:

  • Is that investor presentation you are developing for your boss supposed to be ten simple power point slides with no more than ten words on each? Or, is it a Prezi presentation with captivating graphics and analytics that haven’t yet been created?
  • Who is reviewing the announcements for the new product release? Do you have authority to begin engaging in social media to announce the launch before press materials are approved?
  • Are the invitations for your first-ever, post-investor holiday gala supposed to go out through an Evite, or do the founders want mailed invites? Is it a cash bar, or are you using your new cash infusion to buy a slew of drinks for the team?
  • Is that new feature set that you have been assigned supposed to be finished and thoroughly tested before you demo it for the founders, or do they expect to review it in stages?

During execution, how will you test out the quality for each activity? Who will approve quality? It begins with a plan.

4.     Lessons Learned – When teams learn from their mistakes they save money. Who can afford to spend money repeating the same mistakes?

The operative word in this expression is learned. Organizations are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over, costing unnecessary dollars, unless they learn from them and can easily access them in a stored database for future reference.

5.     Schedules – Focus on fully defining scope inclusions, scope exclusions, quality, and critical deadlines. Use time blocking to increase focus and effectiveness.

In construction project management, there is a huge priority placed on scheduling. The reason for that is there are often multiple sub-contractors juggling their own insanely crazy schedules, weather complications, and supply shipments to arrange on sites with limited storage capacity.

In the business world, we don’t typically have that kind of chaos to manage. So, can we forget managing schedules?

Investors frequently complain that startups miss deadlines. Understanding which deadlines are critical can keep your team from getting distracted by unimportant deadlines.

The schedule is a means to an end. There are other more important project aspects that startups need to focus on, which we discuss in our free eBook – Project Management Basics for Startups.

Check it out here to get a copy and let me know what you think.

Photo credit: 3D-printable scale model of a ladder; by Creative Tools; CC by 2.0 license;