The Role of Project Management in Early Stage Startups

Learn some tricks of the trade from our CPO, Kelsey Houghton, PMP


Globally, there are over a million project managers who have studied obsessively to earn their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. During this process, project managers take hours of classes and a rigorous test to prove they can deliver a project or product “on time, on scope, and on budget” through thoughtful planning and execution in various knowledge areas, including quality, risk, and communications.

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But what happens when you’re tasked with building and delivering a product from scratch? As in, a product with technology that literally does not exist and has never been done before?


In January, Finotta saw unidentified risks - or “unknown unknowns” - completely throw our plans out the window. No matter how many times we tried to prioritize tasks, estimate development timelines, or identify potential risks… surprise issues would pop up in quick succession. It felt like a game of whac-a-mole!

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As a PMP with a corporate background, you can imagine my frustration - I felt completely out of control for the first time in my career, and I’m sure most people in an early-stage startup can relate.


Luckily, PMs are famous for compiling “lessons learned,” so here are a few I’d like to share with those of you who are navigating the early-stage startup life:

  1. Flexibility is key! Don’t be afraid to rapidly pivot plans and priorities as needed. We successfully used an agile framework (kanban) for software development, but it was too early to adhere to true agile processes.

  2. Be aggressive when planning for “unknown unknowns” - buffer your timeline x3

  3. Don’t publicly commit to a deployment deadline before you have a close-to-working MVP… but still work towards an aggressive deadline internally to avoid Parkinson’s Law

  4. Communicate closely and openly with your investors and clients - embrace transparency

  5. Have fun in the trenches and give yourself some credit! You are building something new, and may never have this opportunity again.


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