Lessons from Startup Failures Can Help Your Project

An article on what leads startups to fail has valuable information for project managers. A lot of the problems are similar and can be addressed to keep your project on track.

At TechTarget.com, Bryan Barringer says the one are most linked to startup and small business failure is a gradual loss of focus. Taking your eye off the prize, so to speak.

Barringer is an independent enterprise mobility consultant and speaker, specializing in mobility, user adoption, UX/UI design, customer acquisition, product design/management and strategy and business development. He writes, “There are numerous reasons that can cause fledgling businesses to lose sight of the end game, but without a solid course correction, all eventually result in the same outcome. When focus is lost, the end is inevitable.”

Focus – it’s one of my most difficult tasks as a columnist. It’s lead me to seek help from apps to minimize distractions and keep me on task. Without a computer nanny, my focus would be abysmal.

As Barringer says, startups, just like projects overseen by project managers, typically begin with a solid plan. In a startup, investors are involved while in a typical project (that isn’t a startup) stakeholders have to be invested in a project for it to succeed. Those stakeholders don’t so much invest their own capital as invest their company’s resources to the project.

Too much passion can bring down a startup and a project. Granted, it’s personal passion that sometimes gets a project off the ground but it can also bring a project down. “You can become too passionate about an idea and lose focus on the critical steps needed to make it happen,” Barringer writes.

Maybe passion isn’t going to bring your project down but it could derail it. It’s as simple as people claiming emergencies that take precedent over everything else. It’s the old, “It has to be done now” plea too often heard. You find yourself giving into these people because they are so passionate in their concerns.

Too many visions can also spoil a deal, Barringer observes. It’s the same problem in project management. Ultimately, there needs to be one centralized view of how things are going to be accomplished. Otherwise a project can be killed by a thousand small cuts. It’s important to be assertive in what is the right view.

Does that mean you don’t list to others’ viewpoints? Not at all because then you lose support for your project. It just means you need to be the one who handles the overall view and direction.

Earlier I talked about how startups have investors and projects have stakeholders. Both are going to eventually become impatient for results. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how long they have been patient. A sudden whim could sink your project.

A friend of mine was in the jewelry business for many years. Frankly, he could have used a good project manager over the course of his retail business, but he limped along. Suddenly, after moving to a new location, a major investor called her note. My friend wasn’t prepared and had to shutter his shop. He hadn’t met the investor’s needs and paid the price. The same is true with your stakeholders. Keep them informed and keep them happy.

Barringer’s advice on startups is appropriate for project management. When you start your project or your startup, make sure you have that clear vision statement. “One sentence or a few words that best describes the prize at the end of this race. I write it down on a small card and carry it with me wherever I go,” he writes.

Basically, it comes down to having an elevator pitch for your project. (That’s a statement that can be given in the time it takes to ride an elevator.) Memorize that pitch so you can easily define your mission for your team and your stakeholders.

Here’s an out-of-the-box idea: make that elevator pitch your screen saver on your computer. Think how helpful it could be to have it right there in front of you every time you log onto your computer. It’s just one way your project could succeed.

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