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Guest Post: Life of a Project Manager at a Startup

Managing a Minimally Viable Project

The guest post today is written by Primal’s Mike Rolfe:

Imagine your life as a project manager. Deadlines, teams to manage, quarterly objectives to meet…

Now take all of those deadlines and move them forward a week. Take your team and cut them in half (not literally, although you may want to). Turn your quarterly objectives  into monthly objectives. How are you feeling now? A little like winter is coming?

Such is life when you are in a project management role at a startup, or at a company planning to rapidly scale in the near future. You often find yourself managing a project where you do not have the proper resources or the appropriate team members. Not to mention, there is often great variance between the ideal timeline of a project and the timeline the company is facing due to a major product release, fundraising round, or hiring phase.

But have no fear, winter may still come, but there is a way to focus your efforts on providing the maximum value to your company and your team while keeping with the ebbs and flows of everyday life. This is by focusing on the Minimal Viable Project.

Managing the Minimal Viable Project

Those in the startup world have no doubt at least heard of the concept Minimal Viable Product, made famous by Eric Ries, the pioneer of the Lean Startup Movement. For those new to this, the Minimal Viable Product, or MVP, is the smallest possible iteration of your product that you can release to market in order to get feedback and reiterate based upon the market′s eventual pull. This is a powerful tool for startups who have little capital and market recognition to be able to gauge how their product is fairing with their customers as well as to shape development cycles in house.

However, as a project manager I have found that these principles work just as well when managing larger projects, be they external or internal.

Eric Ries’ Model with a Project Management Twist

I have often found myself in the position of managing development projects, both externally and internally, from conception to eventual deployment, applying Ries’ model often, but, with a twist.

Instead of releasing a minimally viable product to market, I make a minimal viable project, complete with an outline of deliverables and a timeline, to help keep everyone on the same page. These small checkpoints differ from typically negative “micromanagement” moves as they are agreed upon mutual checkpoints with myself and my team. These checkpoints provide opportunity to discuss our collective progress and make timely, small changes that help us stay on the right path.

The minimally viable project approach allows project teams to avoid setting large lofty project goals and suffer from unfortunate retrospection when  if they had noticed something in week 1, the eventual project at week 8 would have come together much more smoothly.

The Next Smallest Step

Setting smaller checkpoints, holding weekly quick one on one′s with team members, and making the project as “small as possible” will help keep you and your team focused while still completing a viable project.  So when faced with your next challenge as a project manager at a startup, when you feel like you need that extra team member, or  that extra week to complete your project just ask yourself: “What is the next smallest possible step I can take?” You′ll have yourself a MVP or minimal viable project and you′ll be on your way to the Iron Throne in no time.

Mike Rolfe is currently a project manager at Primal based out of Waterloo Ontario, while completing his Chemical Engineering degree at The University of Waterloo. He enjoys the Montreal Canadiens, Craft Beers and Game of Thrones.

 Primal has the world′s largest interest network about the things that you truly care about. You can sign up and create your interest network online at or if you a developer or company wanting to take advantage of Primal′s interest networking API to help your business grow you can contact Mike at [email protected]

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