This article is Part 2 of ‘Getting your ideas off the ground’. Before you get stuck into these 7 techniques, you may want to check out Part 1: Planning the destination
As a startup or scale-up, unless your small business is related to project management (as ours is), chances are you don’t actually have any project managers in your team yet. But everything you’re doing – be it product development, IT rollouts, recruitment – IS a project of sorts. And like it or not, you do need systems and processes in place for those projects to run smoothly.
So until you DO have a project manager to call upon, it helps to know a few of the techniques they use to get projects up and running.
A quick side note: You may think ‘project management’ is too rigid for your startup/scale-up, but the techniques and tips in this article aren’t intended to stifle innovation and creativity. They’re designed to structure the way you bring ideas to life, and help you achieve more successful outcomes.
7 simple project management techniques
1: Organise the work into small, manageable chunks
Sometimes called a work breakdown structure (WBS), this approach is best suited to projects where the entire scope is known; like implementing a new IT system or securing an early-stage investment. As well as making the work more manageable, it also helps you to develop a schedule, determine costs, assign responsibilities, and clarify roles.
Your WBS should be created by the whole project team, and you start by identifying the major deliverables and then subdividing them into smaller activities and tasks.
The hierarchy we use at Sharktower is:
- Level 1: High level phases or “clusters”
- Level 2: Activities
- Level 3: Tasks
If you’re not using a delivery management tool yet, you can use a spreadsheet, with the high-level, activities and tasks in columns and rows. Start by mapping out the high-level phases (activities) of the project, then list the activities needed to complete each phase.
The final level is the task level. Any task that will help you get your project completed on time and on budget – however big or small – should be added, and the whole team should be involved in defining them.
Let’s say you’re implementing a new CRM system, the WBS might look like this:
As it says on the tin, scheduling is working out where all the activities and tasks fit on a timeline. It’s central to traditional project management – setting up a realistic schedule and then managing all the resources to ensure the project is completed on time.
There are a lot of tools and techniques for scheduling and it’s where you might come across the Gantt chart. We wouldn’t recommend them (see why in our ‘Gantt rant’ here). This is where project or work management software comes into its own, but for getting started a spreadsheet will do.
See the example below, but you can decide which columns you want to include. Consider who will be completing each task, the start and end dates, the duration, the status of the task (to do, in progress, complete), the likelihood that the task will be completed on time (red, amber, green), and a checkbox for complete. You can also add costs if applicable.
Task lists can be created in Excel, but quickly become time-consuming to update.
Unlike scheduling, Kanban is best suited to projects where the entire scope is not known. Kanban is ideal when teams have lots of requests coming in that can be managed flexibly, like recruiting a new team member. In a visual way, you can organise all parts of the process; e.g. keeping track of all candidates, collecting and organising documents, interviewing, background and reference checks.
Kanban looks like a series of cards on a board, which is used to visualise the flow of work items as they move from one development stage to another. The project board helps team members see what they and their colleagues need to do today, which helps balance the workload and improves prioritisation.
Sharktower’s drag-and-drop 3-column Kanban board
The basic structure of the Kanban board online has three columns: to do, in-progress, and done, but it can be adapted depending on the team. For instance:
- Marketing: To do, in production, pending approval, final
- Support: To do, in progress, fixed
Jira is one of the most popular Kanban platforms, particularly among software developers. If you’d like to try it, they offer a free version for up to 10 users.
4.The Scrum Framework
Scrum Project Management is a framework from Agile project management and is particularly effective in software product development.
With Scrum, your team works in fixed-length intervals called Sprints that include sprint planning stage, sprint review and daily standup meetings. On average, the Sprint is 2 weeks long.
Scrum teams are self-organizing teams, with 5 to 11 members, with three clearly defined roles:
- Product Owner: A single person, responsible for the Product Backlog, which is a list of ‘to-do’ features with short descriptions of the functionality required.
- Development Team: The team that carries out the development work.
- Scrum Master is the person responsible for managing the project process, removing obstacles and coaching their team through meetings or other venues.
Typical sprint phases:
- Product Backlog: The list of functionalities that are to be incorporated in the end product.
- Sprint planning: The team discusses and decides what needs to be achieved at the end of that particular sprint.
- Sprint Backlog: The list of product backlog items that the development team has committed to deliver as part of that particular sprint.
For introductory videos about Agile and Scrum management, we’re fans of Jac Hughes from Everyday Agile.
Watch more of Jac’s videos on the Everyday Agile site here
We mentioned daily standup meetings in relation to the Scrum Framework, but we recommend considering daily stand-ups for the whole business, regardless of role.
Software engineering and developer teams have been using stand-ups for years, and we’ve used them across the whole of Sharktower since day one. Stand-up meetings are a structured and fast way to get a good sense of what’s happening with the team, coordinate work, and remove any blockers. Even better, they work really well over video conferencing for remote teams.
It’s typically a 15-minute meeting held every morning, and everyone answers three simple questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you be doing do today?
- Anything blocking your progress?
Sharktower’s in-app meeting tool includes a countdown timer, but a smartphone timer does the job too!
To keep stand-ups focused, make sure only one person speaks at a time and not for too long. With the short time frame, everyone needs to share high-level or important information as concisely as possible.
Find out more about ways to improve project team meetings in our blog post here
6. Status reports
Project status reports help you see what’s really going on with your projects, rather than the anecdotal updates that might not uncover risks and issues you need to know about. Most project management platforms can generate them for you automatically, but if you’re not using one of those yet, there can be a fair bit of manual info gathering required.
To save a bit of time, try our project report template bundle, which allows you to use Excel and Power BI automate your reports and share them with stakeholders in a fraction of the time.
Our project report template is the next best thing to having automated reporting in Sharktower
7. Retrospective meetings
Running retrospective meetings (or ‘Retros’) is another technique from Scrum, and is used at the end of agile sprints. But it’s a useful exercise for all teams when they reach the end of an activity, major milestone or project goal.
Get everyone together and reflect on where we have come from, what we have achieved, what milestones have we overcome (or MVPs at the end of sprints, or sprint goals achieved). The key is to give individual team members time to reflect on what they’ve done, what’s completed, what they still need to do, what went well and what didn’t.
Whether things have gone smoothly (OK it’s rare but it does happen!) or if there are blockers still lingering, it’s all about what’s been learned through that process – and what should be repeated or changed in future.
Watch this short video to see Sharktower CEO Craig Mackay talk through how Sharktower users run their retros.
Anything else you’d like to know?
As a fairly young business ourselves, we’ve been in your shoes. So if there’s anything else we can help with – project-related or otherwise – get in touch!
You can drop us a live chat here today, or email us at email@example.com