Project Management for Founders - Framing the Right Objective

Project Management for Founders - Framing the Right Objective

So, in my last article, I promised to try and give Founders some practical advice regarding project management. This post is the first piece of that advice, and for that we shall start at the very beginning which, as they say, is a very good place to start.

Set The Right Objective

As anyone who has been trained in communication knows, the question you ask and how you frame it will likely influence the answer you receive. So too with projects, the objective you set at the start influences what the team will work to deliver.

Before we talk about setting this objective, I think it is important to untangle a couple of pieces, namely the Founder’s objective and the startup’s objective.

I suspect that often the founder’s primary or base objective is to sell the business they create at large profit in the not too distant future. Of course, they may want to run the business and make lots of money for a while first. Either way, the objective is “to make lots of money” which is a valid personal objective, but not really helpful when framing a pitch/project.

By way of illustration, if the primary objective is for the Founder to make money, one way of doing that is raising as much money as possible as quickly as possible and paying oneself a good salary, bonus, etc. for as long as the journey lasts. It is not hard to see that this will likely lead to a certain set of behaviours.

More practically, we need to look at the business the Founder is creating and consider it to be an entity in its own right that can continue to exist after a sale. It is the success of the business entity that can deliver to the Founder’s personal objective, not the other way round.

With this in mind the right sort of objective to start the project with is something like this;

To capture XX% of the sustainable i-widget global market through the use of innovative production and distribution techniques within Y years.

Or maybe

To promote the use of {new} technology in support of the end-to-end commercial baking processes to reduce production time by A% and costs by B%.

Framed this way, the objective provides the reader with a clearer sense of purpose and allows them to check the alignment of the startup’s activities to the intent.

Ideally, these objectives are as SMART as possible. Smart, in this case, being an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed. This is not always that easy (but then who said it would be easy?) for an early-stage startup, but addressing as many of the five elements as possible is a good approach.

This is not as radical as some might think as it is a result or outcome framed statement of the problem or opportunity included in most pitch decks. The difference is that it starts directing the solution.

I hear the cry, “…but we are doing new stuff, we have to be agile…” but I will hold to this advice as the starting point. Of course the objective can be revised and re-written if necessary, but that will be a conscious step, not a meandering iteration.

My old Headmaster used to say that if you couldn’t write it down, then you didn’t understand it well enough. This is as true today as it was back in the 1970s.

First Challenge to Founders: Can you articulate the objective of your startup in this way?

Assuming you can articulate an effective objective that is as “smart” as possible, my next piece of advice is to determine what outcomes you will seek/provide to prove that you are on track over the next 1-3 years?

I suggest 1-3 years as this is long enough to allow real progress, but also short enough to provide focus. Also understanding the evidence, you will need will inform your project and its planning.

I suggest no more than five key measures. Why? Because you will be asked to prioritise then by weighting them out of a total of 100%. If evenly prioritised, each would attract 20%, but usually there are more important and less important measures, and I think that none should be weighted less than 10%, else by definition they are not that important and just muddy the water.

You might have 40:30:20:10, 30:30;20:20, 50:40:10. You don’t have to have five, just no more than five.

They can be anything that the Founder (and investors?) consider to be critical measures of success; market share, revenue level, break-even point, client take up, awards, etc. These should be dated!

They should be articulated thus:

No alt text provided for this image

There are two big reasons for doing this. The first is that it allows one to check progress against the outcomes you set as being critical for success and, if necessary, adjust the project or alternatively consider if the outcome set has changed.

The second reason is that this helps the founder make better decisions when the unexpected happens (and it will). By considering the impact on the outcomes (in their priority) can help one assess options and decide on the best one.

Of course, you can wait until something happens and then try and work out how to make a decision, but evidence suggests that your assessment of options and importance can be heavily influenced by the triggering event/situation and may not be totally objective or sympathetic to the original intent.

Second Challenge to Founders: Can you articulate the critical outcomes you are seeking, their relative importance and how you will demonstrate success

I am sure this will seem bureaucratic to many, and I know it is not always easy, but the singular intent is to promote clarity and provide an appropriately strong foundation to build a project plan.

The challenge from this piece is to articulate a brief objective for the startup and up to five critical outcomes – how hard can that be? That said, if you need help, then just ask.

In the next article we will look at what to do?

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  • Justin Andrew

    I have always underestimated the role of project management until starting my own business

  • Carly Hambleton

    Good article

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Ian J Sutherland 

Business Change Expert

Ian J Sutherland is a highly skilled director with expertise in governance, partnerships and regulation and almost four decades of experience serving as a powerful catalyst for change for organisations of all sizes and sectors. He thrives on identifying areas for innovation and improvement, forming effective strategies to drive efficiency and create bottom-line results. He has a proven capacity to serve as a bridge between organisations and functions, creating unity and operational coherence. A personable and creative leader, with a unique insight and the ability to see the big picture and provide constructive challenge, he writes on many matters including the delivery of change in today's world and is an opportunistic photographer who seeks to capture images that interest him. He enjoys good beer, good company and good music - not necessarily in that order.

   

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