May 1, 2024 by: Collins Benda

Project management for Startups

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Research Intro: In the 19th century, mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the concept of scientific management to maximize efficiency and productivity at work. He believed that people could get more done in less time by breaking down projects into smaller parts and approaching them as individual tasks. 

This “work smarter, not harder” approach teaches us that, for teams to feel engaged and productive and avoid burnout, leaders need to intentionally create an environment where teamwork can thrive. 

However, information silos, inefficient working methods, and a lack of visibility around tasks and deliverables make it harder to complete projects on time. 

To boost morale, create smooth workflows, and improve productivity, you need to communicate the benefits of teamwork before embarking on any project—and get your whole team on board. After all, project management strategies are great, but they’re an academic exercise unless everyone’s on the same page and putting them into practice

Blog Intro: Having worked in a traditional cooperate environment. We become aware of the inefficiencies at work for instance the endless meetings that could have been a simple email, documentation that constantly growing in complexity. Having noticed this, we realise cooperate practices can destroy start-ups because of multiple levels of bureaucracy. These methods are good for cooperate because they have already achieved product market fit ,there vision is clear and they have enough resources to compensate inefficiency however start-ups are in the process of discovering their product-market fit, which requires extreme flexibility, instantaneous decisions with minimal resources.

To get a better understanding of cooperated vs start-ups read this

Corporations aim to avoid mistakes, start-ups aim to make them faster and cheaper, because avoiding them is impossible

For a start-up company, project management provides a structured system that resource-strapped start-up teams can streamline to build products and deliver services with greater efficiency.

Project management for start-ups typically involves making sure projects align with growth goals and resource management, creating project plans, developing communication guidelines, using project management methodologies, setting KPIs, and learning from mistakes and bottlenecks

The Approach

  • How we shall approach each idea in the start-ups before we translate it into a project tasks

Before you embark on any project, there are a few things you need to bear in mind if you’re to avoid exceeding your team’s capacity and resources. Let’s take a look at those now: 

  • Resource availability and dependencies. Check if you have the necessary resources–like personnel, tools, and materials–and understand how different tasks depend on each other. This will help you avoid bottlenecks or grinding to a halt mid-project.
  • Team size. Consider the size of your project team and what impact your project management strategies might have on communication, teamwork, and workload. This will help avoid burnout and keep everyone on track.
  • Team skills and experience. Understand the skills and experience of your team members so you can assign tasks in a way that leverages their strengths. Finally, identify any skill gaps that may require training or external support so they don’t become a barrier to progress once the project is underway.
  • Timeline and budget. Set clear timelines and budgets to avoid scope creep, delays, and overspending.


To plan a start-up project, you should start by validating that your idea for a product or service solves a particular problem for your target audience. Then you'll need to build a solid business case for your investors, board of directors, or co-founders, ensuring that it’s going to contribute to a worthwhile ROI for the company. Once your project is approved, you’ll need to define the scope, goals, and KPIs; build a team; assign a budget; identify risks and barriers; and decide which methodologies to use.

Communication Flow

This needs to be extremely lean and efficient.


Video and in-person meetings should be reserved for high-level strategic discussions, and they should be backed by validation and traction data.

Everything operational needs to move through faster channels – e.g. chat groups for the different projects.

At the same time, top-level overview meetings are more essential for start-ups than for corporations, as an early-stage start-up needs to go through multiple iterations and even pivots. Getting bogged down in the day-to-day operational details could prevent you to see clearly the long-term course of the project, which needs to be carefully navigated.

It's crucial to encourage a culture of preparation when it comes to meetings and equip people to do more than just turn up.

To help people understand the hidden cost of meetings, Shopify created a meeting cost calculator that proved their average 30-minute meeting with three employees at the company costs between $700-$1600. To have fewer, more productive meetings, it's important to understand when async working makes sense for your team.

Meetings don't have to be boring in cooperate a few games to make them vibrant and keep the energy up for instance start with a check-in from


The documentation for the projects needs to be lean and easily accessible for team members preferably in a share cloud document or PM software.

Use Collaborative tools to avoid context switching between multiple apps, notifications, and messages pulls you out of focus work and can hurt your team's productivity. Visual collaboration platforms like Switchboard can help with this by organizing project information all in one place. Just add your project management tool, virtual whiteboard, Figma designs, and sprint planning agenda. Then, get straight to work without integrating or downloading anything. 

Communication And Messaging

Over-communicate key messaging. People need time to absorb and act on information. Don’t expect to be able to say something important once. Instead, you need to tailor communications to the message you want to get across, the audience, and the channel it's delivered on. Develop a communication plan. This should outline key messages, target audiences, communication channels to use, and frequency of updates. This makes sure any communication is intentional and covers all necessary aspects of the project

Best Frameworks and practices

 the project management practices need to be agile. The team needs to be able to discard tasks, ideas, and even projects fast once there is negative feedback from the marke  that require the team to be flexible enough to adapt to evolving project requirements t.    In that sense, agile project management frameworks as Kanban and Scrum are usually the best ones for start-ups.


Agile is an iterative and flexible approach to project management and product development that prioritizes collaboration, adaptability, and customer satisfaction through the delivery of small, incremental releases. 

Agile is like the startup's playbook. Startups can quickly adapt to changes in the market, prioritize tasks based on immediate needs, and deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) for rapid testing and improvements.

Agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban, which we’ll talk about more below, can help startups manage their work in short cycles, allowing them to pivot quickly in response to market changes.

While some large corporations have embraced Agile, its emphasis on cross-functional teams and quick decision-making can clash with traditional hierarchical structures.

Here's how you might start an Agile approach to project management: 

  1. Gather your cross-functional team
  2. Create a product backlog, with a prioritized list of features or tasks
  3. Plan your work in fixed time increments (aka sprints) 
  4. Conduct daily stand-up meetings to discuss progress, challenges, and plans for the day
  5. Work on small, incremental product releases
  6. Hold a sprint review to showcase what was accomplished
  7. Use feedback from each sprint to adapt and refine your approach
  8. Keep the customer or end-user involved throughout the process

Scrum is a popular Agile framework that helps start-ups manage complex projects by breaking them into smaller, manageable tasks. It promotes collaboration, transparency, and regular reviews. Scrum can be particularly effective for start-ups dealing with software development or product design, where incremental improvements and regular feedback are critical

   > Keep in mind that one shouldn’t adhere to their practices religiously. For example, Scrum’s daily stand-up meetings are great for a team of 8, but they might be unnecessary for a small early-stage project on which people work on and off part-time. The details of your project management practices should be fitted to the needs of your project, but the important thing is to adhere to the underlying principles

Kanban focuses on visualizing work and optimizing workflows. It can be useful for start-ups that want to reduce bottlenecks, improve efficiency, and maintain a steady pace of work. It helps to plan and manage project tasks and activities along with every aspect of a task, such as task assignees, due dates, file attachments, and task briefs are visually represented within a Kanban board. Startups can implement Kanban boards in tools like Asana to break projects into component tasks, track work in progress, and respond quickly to changing priorities.


Lean principles are a natural fit for startups aiming to do more with less. Startups use lean methodologies to eliminate waste, optimize processes, and deliver value to customers by testing products with real users. This helps startups avoid wasting resources on features that customers don't want. 

Use techniques like Build-Measure-Learn (BML) cycles and validated learning to continuously refine your product based on customer feedback and market insights. Lean value stream mapping exercises also help you visualize the entire project process. This lets you identify areas where you can eliminate waste, optimize flow, and improve overall efficiency.

Waterfall Project Management refers to a sequential method of project management. This means that each project is split up into phases consisting of a set of tasks. You can only proceed to the next phases once you are completely done with the previous phase. This methodology relies heavily on careful planning and to-the-point execution. This methodology is excellent if your startup deals with clear-cut project requirements right from the beginning. This will be possible if you attain accurate briefs from clients that are unlikely to change during any stage of the project

Critical path (CPM) refers to the longest sequence of scheduled project tasks and activities that must be completed on time to impact the overall timely project completion positively. These tasks are mostly interdependent and require dedicated effort to be accomplished as desired. CPM is awesome for startups that deal with complex projects. This technique lets you identify the most critical sequence of tasks. This ensures that your team recognizes the most crucial tasks, enabling a better chance of success. This is because the team is best prepared to execute these tasks from the start. Different methodologies may suit different types of startups. You must answer the following questions and determine which methodology is best for your unique project and team needs. Also, don’t forget that you can mix it up and even adopt different methodologies for different projects within your organization.

  • How big is your team?
  • Do you have sufficient resources to manage multiple projects simultaneously?
  • Do you get well-defined project briefs from the client, or do requirements keep on evolving as per market trends?
  • How often do your projects get feedback from clients?
  • Do your team members need to collaborate too frequently?

Pro tip: Combine elements from different project management methodologies to suit your project needs. For example, a product team building a new app might combine Agile project management and Lean methodologies. First, they build an agile, cross-functional team including developers, designers, marketers, and customer support representatives.  Then, to help them visualize the flow of tasks and manage their work, they decide to use Kanban boards. Since tasks move through different stages, from ideation to development to testing, this helps bring transparency to the workflow.  Lastly, they incorporate Lean methods like minimizing batch sizes. This lets them deliver small, incremental updates to the application regularly—and get feedback fast.

Tools to use

Remember to choose a start-up project management tool that complements your work style and pace

  • Asana is a user-friendly platform that helps manage projects big and small
  • Trello is a Kanban-style project management tool for start-ups.
  • Jira is an excellent project management tool that helps coordinate team efforts and scale-up projects easily. It is easy to set up and navigate
  • Basecamp is a feature-rich tool, great for remote teams and businesses
  • Teamwork is a collaborative project management platform that keeps your projects moving forward. You can set up milestones and track progress effectively.


Be an active listener

Workflows and processes need to make sense for the people using them. Collect feedback regularly and in different formats to understand project management success from different perspectives. 

Here's how you can collect feedback from your team: 

  • Create regular surveys or questionnaires. Decide on the frequency and give team members, stakeholders, or project participants the option to submit feedback anonymously if they feel more comfortable. 

  • Conduct retrospectives. Use a structured format to review what went well, what could be improved, and action items for the future at the end of each project phase or iteration. 

  • Set up a poll. If you're using Switchboard, you can set up a poll in your project room and have people answer you in real time or async. This makes it easy to hone in on feelings about specific project details or general inquiries.

  • How to ease the team into it and phase out the old system

  • How to orchestrate the different tools and communicate results

  • How different departments ca utilize the tools

5. Use AI to save time

From automating workflows and prioritizing tasks to sharing information between apps, artificial intelligence (AI) can save you time and improve efficiency. Many online collaboration tools for project management have AI capabilities built in, so you may not need to sign up for that separately.   

Let's investigate how you can use AI based on your collaboration tools: 

  • Project and task management. Tools like Asana use AI to analyze task deadlines, dependencies, and historical data to suggest which tasks should be prioritized. It can also analyze team members' workloads, skill sets, and project data to suggest the best way to allocate resources.

  • Document collaboration. Leverage AI using tools like Notion to automatically categorize and organize content. For example, to analyze the content of notes and documents, automatically assign relevant tags, and categorize content by theme.  

  • Visual collaboration. Switchboard’s AI assistant automatically produces short, actionable summaries of any web pages, transcripts, sticky notes, or documents in your dedicated room. It's also a conversation assistant, so you can get ideas, answer questions, and find inspiration when brainstorming or meeting. This means you can have your meeting notes in the room as well as your project tracker and ask questions like "Did we talk about all the overdue tasks in our meeting yesterday?" It also means all your tools and documents in the room can “talk” to each other, which saves you a ton of time gathering and summarizing information from meetings or project work sessions.

Strategies to create an environment where collaboration can flourish

Creating the right team culture

Communication and team work is paramount in projects and lays a strong foundation for the success for the project and the team but this starts with team culture which entails creating an environment that promotes trust, empathy, and closeness helps you align your teams, encourage them to take ownership of projects, and work together more effectively

Here are some ways to create a positive collaboration culture:

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of spontaneous communication and non-work-related bonding. A fun Slack channel, meeting check-in , or games hour helps your people build deeper relationships, break down silos, and be more empathetic towards each other.
  • Establish strong values like trust, kindness, and respect. These guide your people’s behaviors and let them make decisions that drive teamwork. Live your values to set the right precedent and get everyone on board.
  • Get ahead with team training and invest in your people. Whether it’s upskilling, reskilling, or keeping ahead of trends and new technologies through seminars, courses, or workshops, you need to create a culture of continuous learning. This encourages a growth mindset and helps team members be more adaptable, resilient, and creative.

Slack Mesaage

  • Creating a culture of continuous learning and development helps your project teams remain more agile. Source: Flying Cat Marketing.

Create the right working environment

The right working environment is crucial to successful project planning, clear communication, and effective problem-solving, and it all starts with your tools, resources, and processes. 

Let’s say you’re managing a team of people in a medium-sized game development company. The perfect environment could mean having the right project management software that helps your people track project goals, communicate easily, and stay on schedule.

It could also mean embracing agile methodologies, promoting psychological safety, and documenting your processes in Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) so knowledge isn’t lost and everyone can work to the same standards. 

Start by asking your teams what they need to ensure project success. Then, provide that and test it out, iterating as you go.

When your team members have access to all the resources and tools they need to complete their work, they can move full steam ahead, avoid workflow issues, and keep stakeholders happy and in the loop.

Setting Clear Goals

Setting S.M.A.R.T and hard goals is one way to get your team to stay within project scope and focus on results.

In a software development project, for example, clearly defined goals and expectations could include delivering a new feature within a specified timeline, meeting quality standards, and aligning with client requirements. This lets the team prioritize tasks, allocate resources effectively, and be more productive, which helps with successful project completion.

Finally, make sure your people understand the level of internal and external stakeholder involvement to expect and brief them on their roles and responsibilities. The more clarity your people have, the better able they are to do their jobs—and the more they will trust you and the rest of the leadership team.

According to Tarah Keech, Founder of Tarah Keech Coaching, a lack of clarity about what to expect can lead to lower trust levels between leadership and your people. However, mitigating that “can be as simple as understanding what questions you need answered,” she says. To do this, she suggests going to your leadership with a list of questions or doubts your team might have and sharing their answers with them.

 Use a work breakdown structure

Using a work breakdown structure (WBS) helps you break complex projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. This makes planning and execution easier.

For example, in a marketing campaign, a WBS can divide the project into components like research, content creation, advertising, and analytics. This breakdown lets you allocate resources, assign tasks, and track progress more efficiently. 

Here are three steps to do that:

  • Identify project phases or major milestones. Instead of focusing solely on final deliverables, identify the key phases or major milestones of the project. Breaking things down into these distinct stages or frequencies helps with planning, tracking progress, and managing dependencies between different parts of the project.
  • Involve the team. Work with your team to develop the WBS, taking their expertise and insights into consideration. When you choose task owners, delegate the work based on each team member’s strengths and capacity. For example, you can give social media creation to team members who’ve shown a flair for engaging people online. Others might have skills better lend themselves to project management or building client relationships. 
  • Establish clear hierarchies. Organize tasks in a clear structure, starting with major components and breaking them down into sub-tasks. This makes it even clearer which tasks need to be prioritized.

 Establish a meeting schedule based on the team’s needs

Every specific project calls for different types of meetings. Depending on project complexity and what you need to achieve, you might opt for daily stand ups or monthly check-ins. Figure out how often your teams need to meet, which format is more beneficial for them, and who needs to be involved. This lets you increase visibility and make quick decisions while still protecting your people’s time by avoiding unnecessary meetings. 

Here are some virtual meeting best practices to make your calls as effective as possible:

  • Determine meeting frequency. Once you’ve assessed the project needs and complexity, try to strike a balance between regular updates and giving your team enough time to actually  execute their tasks.

  • Encourage ownership. This means getting every team member to take responsibility for their ideas, contributions, and tasks. You can do so by taking turns on who leads the meeting or letting different members contribute to the agenda. When each person feels like they have a stake in the overall project, they’re more likely to actively participate in the meeting.

  • Choose the right virtual meeting platform. Your software of choice should be built for doing not just talking. When you use a virtual workspace like Switchboard, you can all work together on browser-based documents, apps, and files—instead of just watching one person share their screen. This means you can tackle every new project in a collaborative way.

  • Cancel the meeting when possible. Think carefully about whether you really need to get everyone in the same room at the same time. If information or updates could be shared async via a Loom video or a Slack channel, go with that instead. Your people will appreciate getting the time back to focus on work

Track project progress 

Tracking the progress of your project lets you keep your team and stakeholders informed. You can also spot potential issues and make proactive decisions to keep everything on track. For instance, for a marketing campaign, tracking progress lets the project manager monitor KPIs, timelines, and budget use. This means they can identify delays or problems early on and take the necessary actions to keep the campaign on track.

Here are some tips for effectively tracking project progress:

  • Utilize Kanban boards. These visually represent tasks and their progress. Move the tasks across different stages–i.e. “To do,” “doing,” and “done”–to track their status at a glance. This makes it easy for everyone to check the status of a task and what’s coming next. 
  • Conduct regular retrospectives at the end of each project phase or milestone. Reflect on progress, discuss lessons learned, and identify improvements for future iterations. This iterative approach helps you learn continuously and refine things as you go. 
  • Run a project health check. Evaluate the overall projects, any issues your team members encounter, and any possible solutions. For example, if your people find a stage in the workflow to be redundant and time-consuming, you can either explain why it’s important or remove it altogether, making the project flow more smoothly. Remember to do this regularly at key milestones, not just when the project is over.
  • Regularly communicate updates to stakeholders. Keep them informed of progress and the impact of your work. Do this in an easily digestible format so your clients and stakeholders can take in the information quickly. For example, you can post a quick roundup or a single slide with a few key points every week on your shared Slack channel.

  • Regularly keeping your stakeholders updated helps everyone stay on track and see the value of your work. Source: Flying Cat Marketing

Fight scope creep

Scope creep happens when projects expand beyond their original objectives, leading to longer timelines, higher costs, and team member burnout. For example, if your website development client continuously requests new functionalities or design elements, the project may go beyond its initial scope—which can hurt team motivation and your bottom line.  

To effectively fight scope creep:

  • Document the project scope early on. Communicate it to all stakeholders when they onboard to the project to ensure everyone understands the project limits. This will help avoid unnecessary additions later on. For example, you could specify a certain number of changes, pages, fonts, colors, or images on the website. This way, you’re within your rights to negotiate a higher fee for additions or changes that are out of scope.

  • Regularly review project scope. This makes sure there’s ongoing alignment with project goals. Evaluate any potential changes against the original scope and assess their feasibility and impact before incorporating them into the project.

  • Set clear expectations for your team members and establish boundaries with clients. If something is out of scope, communicate that to the client and present an alternative solution. For example, “A this new feature at this point in the sprint is out of scope but we can prioritize it in the next sprint. What do you think?” Offering a choice ensures the client feels heard and considered while avoiding you being out of pocket on the project. 

For Tarah, the clearer you are about what you and your clients, team, and leadership need from each other, the easier it is to act in alignment with the desired outcome. “This helps simplify the decision making,” she says, “about what does and doesn't get prioritized, about what you say no to or honor your boundaries around.”

8. Evaluate team performance regularly

When you regularly evaluate and measure team productivity and performance, you can identify strengths and areas for improvement, provide constructive feedback, and align individual efforts with project goals. However, make sure to steer clear of micromanaging or “big brother” tactics, and don’t overload your people with constant reviews. 

The point of any evaluation is to check on the health of the team and the project, not because you don’t trust your people. It’s also an opportunity to ensure no one is overburdened or approaching burnout.

Consider these three tips to evaluate your team’s performance:

  • Have regular 1:1s with individual team members. Take this chance to provide constructive and positive feedback and encourage them to come to you with their needs, questions, and opinions. For example, if one person is struggling to complete their tasks on time, you can dig into the reasons and figure out how to help them.
  • Discuss KPIs with the team. This promotes transparency and makes sure everyone’s on the same page. It also gives your team an opportunity to share best practices, knowledge, and resources to help each other meet their performance targets.

Lets Get Practical

Creating a Project Plan

Here are 10 steps to creating a project management plan:

  1. Define project objectives, scope, constraints, deliverables, and desired outcomes 
  2. Identify stakeholders and understand their expectations and needs
  3. Develop a work breakdown structure by breaking down the project into smaller parts 
  4. Define activities and dependencies
  5. Develop the project schedule and use techniques like Gantt charts or network diagrams to visualize the schedule
  6. Allocate resources for each task
  7. Develop a risk management plan
  8. Define a communication plan 
  9. Set quality standards and monitor deliverables to make sure they adhere to standards 
  10. Monitor and evaluate project progress


| Resource | Description | | --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | Best Project Management Software | A blog post discussing various project management software options. | | The Best Project Management Framework for Startups | An article on Forbes highlighting the best project management framework for startups. | | Project Management Strategies | Resource on project management strategies from Switchboard. | | Project Managers Should Think Like Startup Founders | An article from Harvard Business Review discussing how project managers can adopt startup mindset. |