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Run Your Project Like a Startup and Win

September 30, 2011

I recently finished reading the hit book “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.  This book describes how “today’s entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses.”  Much of the concept for The Lean Startup movement is centered around Agile thinking and the Toyota Way.  Having started four of my own companies, including one complete failure, this movement is a great step in the right direction.

Agile thinking is becoming pervasive among the project management profession; one such example is the newly released PMP-ACP (Project Management Professional – Agile Certified Professional) certification from the Project Management Institute. The growth of Agile in our project management practice at Bellevue Tech is gaining momentum as evidenced by the number of Scrum Master/Project Managers we have in our client engagements.  However, the focus of the PMP certification around agile and our consulting services are mostly targeted at software development projects.  These Agile concepts can be applied well beyond software.

Eric Ries defines a Startup as “an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”  Wow, doesn’t this sound like a project team and what we as project managers are managing everyday?  Nearly every project is chartered to building some new capability under conditions of extreme uncertainty.  Yet, how much are we applying experimentation through a process of building, measuring and learning in our projects?  The Lean Startup thoroughly discusses these concepts of first testing the major assumptions of our plan:  are we building something valuable?  And it follows that every idea, every feature, every organizational capability can also be tested as to its value and viability.  So often we are told by our client and/or sponsor that what we’re building is valuable.  This is a leap of faith!  We must begin to rigorously invest the tiny amount of time up-front testing these hypotheses.

So many of our projects are set up for launch dates (and initial testing date, I might add) way into the future.  Like my startup Kickplay, which launched in late 2007, our team found out very quickly (and disappointingly) that what we thought was valuable with growth potential was marginally valuable and likely not scalable.  Though we followed an Agile development methodology, we failed to test some of our leap of faith assumptions early in the process using tiny experiments.

Following startup principles from The Lean Startup can help make your project a winner.  If you are using Agile on your projects, and even if you’re not, pick up a copy of The Lean Startup and start focusing more on value creation than on meeting deadlines and scope.  Your customers and sponsors will be glad you did.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2011 10:41 pm

    Actually, I think the title of your post should be something like “A startup is like a project” and not the other way around, as every startup is a project in and for itself.

    • October 3, 2011 9:38 pm

      The title could certainly be turned around. However, most projects in larger enterprises aren’t thought about as startups and lean startup concepts could significantly increase the likelihood of success for those projects. Most startups know they are working on a project…

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