by Rob Bellenfant, founder and CEO of TechnologyAdvice
Startup companies are small, and almost always focused on growth. At the start, they rely on a few core team members, and there’s little overhead involved in managing workflows or tracking performance. The goal is to get bigger, better, faster, and stronger, but achieving these goals brings new obstacles and challenges. As the company expands, managing a team becomes an increasingly difficult task – one that often catches startups off-guard. Suddenly, instead of pursuing new business ventures, founders are trying to figure out how projects ran over budget, ran past deadline, or even completely fell through the cracks.
The right project management software can help a growing team focus on just that: growing. It can be the difference between having an efficient workflow on a productive team, or being a scattered organization that is constantly picking up the loose ends of lost projects and unassigned tasks.
Why you need it.
The rate of your team’s growth is always slower than the growth of your workload. You add to your team in response to demand, which means that growing companies are almost always facing bottlenecks. So, when you have more team members that must begin taking on tasks, you have even more new tasks that must be distributed across employees.
You can probably track a couple of team member’s responsibilities just in your head. A well laid-out whiteboard chart can also choreograph a handful or so. But a team of a dozen or more in a constantly growing, rapidly shifting environment (i.e. a startup) produces more sticky-notes than can ever fit on a single computer monitor (or three, depending on your budget), and sooner or later one of them will be knocked off. By the time you realize you’ve forgotten a task, it’s usually too late for a quick solution.
Dozens of project management solutions are designed to address these issues, and many are made for specific industries, like marketing, consulting, web design, or home-delivery gourmet bacon burgers (maybe not the last one, but a guy can dream).
What it looks like.
Many project management tools use a visual, “Kanban” approach. Each task or project is given a card that is placed on the virtual board. You move the cards along the board’s different sections (To Do, In Progress, Completed, etc.) to track them through a workflow.
You can introduce as much complexity to this system as you like. You can assign cards to specific team members, view cards from different perspectives (all cards, cards assigned to specific people, cards dependent upon each other, etc.), and add sub cards that have to be completed before a card can be moved to the next section. Kanbanize is one example of this type of project management software.
This system helps you and your team members see what everyone else is working on so that no one is left with too little (or too much) work. Assignments can also be divided among coworkers (or reassigned), and anyone can check on the status of a task, without using email.
Even better, visual PM software doesn’t require a hierarchical business structure. While a project manager can delegate tasks, companies can also delegate as a team during set meetings. As more people are added to the team, and as more projects are added to the team’s workload, cards can be rearranged. No matter how much reassignment occurs, every card is in someone’s board at all times, so no tasks are left behind. Each person is responsible for the tasks on their board.
If a large project is under someone’s control, that person can keep track of task progress from afar. Everyone is responsible for making sure work is distributed fairly.
Small businesses love to capitalize on easy, consolidated office solutions, which is why many project management tools offer great additional, bonus features.
A number of PM products, such as Wrike, include file sharing and real-time document editing. Most tools at least allow you to attach documents to specific cards. Directly associating the document with a project eliminates the confusion of transferring project ideas and documents over email. In the PM software, you know that all documents attached to a card are within that project’s scope.
Many programs also have instant messaging tools or comment boards, which we’ve found to be really useful. Comment boards can be tied to a specific project or task, separating communication about one item from everything else. Instant messaging can also help cut down on group emails (we all have that person who loves to “reply all”). The Odoo Project is an example of a tool that comes with a built in chat box that’s great for this type of communication.
Every PM software product tries to throw in their own bonus perk to distinguish themselves from other tools, so look around to see if you can consolidate multiple office needs into one tool. They may even offer pre-built integration with software you already use. Leankit, for example, offers over 250 integrations, including Google Apps, Microsoft Sharepoint, and more.
Project management software is the solution to keeping track of a growing workload in a scaling company. Sticky notes are great, but eventually that glue dries out and that paper could be on the move. Don’t gamble the completion of your company’s most important tasks on small, colorful, sticky squares that could end up crumpled under your feet.
Rob Bellenfant is a millennial entrepreneur and investor specializing in IT, sales, marketing, and talent development. He is the founder and CEO of TechnologyAdvice, a Nashville, Tenn.-based Inc. 5000 company that is dedicated to educating, advising, and connecting buyers and sellers of business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.