Fast-growing startups can quickly outgrow the informal project management processes that naturally develop among a small group of early employees. Relying on a single person to update a project team on crucial information – like deadline changes – may work with a team of five people all sitting in the same office, but is neither realistic nor efficient when more people are involved and particularly if collaboration is among a team split across different locations.
But transitioning to standardised processes for project collaboration and setting up the right project management tools can feel counterintuitive for companies where personal preferences have previously determined the ways of working.
It can also be overwhelming knowing where to start.
“As startups scale, the intricacies of communication, project management, and team alignment intensify,” says Elliot Lee, SVP of business development at project collaboration platform Morningmate. “Effective collaboration, thus, becomes not just beneficial but essential.
“There’s always a risk that imposing unsuitable project management practices on employees will backfire and alienate team members who struggle to engage with new ways of working. For project management to increase productivity, you need to truly support collaboration with processes that work for everyone.”
Sera Park has seen this first-hand at an educational organisation with around 70 employees. Initial attempts to use collaboration software and formalise task management had resulted in colleagues sharing documents in WhatsApp group chats. While this improved on the previous practice in which individuals managed their own personal task lists and stored information in personal notebooks, it quickly became “messy”.
A second attempt to roll out project management tools was not well received, with employees complaining that the platforms were hard to use. Morningmate’s project management platform was the first to be widely accepted and used.
“Sharing assignments through WhatsApp and coordinating group projects was tough,” said Park. “Morningmate’s tools make it smooth to assign tasks and collaborate.”
For growing companies looking to implement project management infrastructure for the first time, there are five core collaboration principles that can help minimise friction.
Effective collaboration is learnt, not innate
It’s tempting to think that collaboration should come naturally to people. But, in fact, collaboration is a skill that has to be acquired, trained and refined.
This is particularly true for companies looking to establish shared processes and communication practices. Employees may have an instinctive understanding of how to manage their own time and tasks, but it’s unreasonable to expect that every employee will naturally converge on the same processes and use tools the same way.
Training and guidance are therefore essential for all employees – not just project managers. Whether companies are rolling out a project management tool, or simply looking to establish consistent communication practices, the first step should be to provide the right learning resources and ongoing support.
Startups should schedule dedicated training sessions for new tools even if it seems self-explanatory. It’s also important to signpost guidance and documentation on a company’s ways of working – including details like how different communication channels are used, where to find up-to-date project information and who to go to for specific tasks or problems.
Different people need different ways to engage
Shared project management processes do not mean forcing people to consume information, manage their tasks or communicate in exactly the same way.
It’s possible to provide options for people to work the way that best suits them, while ensuring that key project information is centralised and accessible.
This is generally easier to achieve with project management software that provides the flexibility to view and report information in various ways, while maintaining a single version of truth for everyone.
For example, most project management tools will offer different ways to view a project, including task lists, calendars, dashboards and Gantt charts. These different views will still contain all relevant tasks, deadlines and resources, but enable employees to engage with the same information without having to dramatically change their existing habits.
Identifying dependencies early is crucial
Collaborative projects are often held up by situations when a task cannot be completed or progressed until something else has been achieved.
If one person’s task relies on something they cannot control – like signoff from a different person or crucial information they need someone else to share – this needs to be factored in to project timelines and workflows. Otherwise, people will waste time trying to find ways to overcome roadblocks or spending time on other tasks that are less of a priority.
The key is to map out dependencies early and set clear milestones to ensure prerequisite tasks are completed well ahead of the next stage.
Doing so also minimises bottlenecks – when too many tasks depend on one thing or one person.
Collaborators need to know exactly what to expect
Collaboration requires that everyone understands the expectations and agrees to them. It’s always better to overcommunicate so that all team members are on the same page, rather than leaving anything to guess work.
For example, it’s all very well setting up weekly project check-in meetings, but if participants do not know what to prepare for the meeting or how to use that time, it will result in unproductive conversations and frustration.
In general, the more specific you can be with communication, task briefs, deadlines and responsibilities, the better.
Information should be centralised and accessible
Remote and flexible working has removed geographical barriers and improved accessibility in many ways, but it can also present challenges when people work in different time zones or different hours. It’s inefficient to rely on individual, ad-hoc communication when different people are working at different times or in different places.
If essential information is only accessible to certain people, you add extra workload on others who have to put effort into finding or requesting the information, documents and updates they need.
Centralising essential information is a quick win. This can be done in more or less sophisticated ways – from consistent file-sharing processes to all-encompassing project management platforms with automation built in.
In general, setting up collaboration practices early can significantly tilt the scales towards success for high-growth startups, says Elliot Lee at Morningmate.
“More and more startups are choosing to use a comprehensive project management platform at an early stage in their growth journey,” says Lee. “Morningmate is particularly committed to providing low-friction tools for unrestricted collaboration, which makes it a worthy consideration for startups who want to start on a platform they won’t outgrow as they scale.”