“If only we had an option to create sub-tasks and use templates, we’d be x10 more productive. We could build more features. We could win!” — Everyone, all the time.
Sadly, it’s all lies.
In the recent years, there is a huge blossom in the Project Management area: “This tool is great for implementing Kanban!”, or “This tool has a great intuitive UX!” and “Yea, but this tool actually follows the Lean Startup principles” are thrown into the air faster than you deploy code to production these days.
I call bullshit.
I believe that focusing your time around Project Management tools is a premature optimization and probably #1 killer of many startups. Why? In a single word: “Focus”. In two: “Wrong Focus”.
In order to build a great company, here is what you need:
- Internal Purpose – Which kind of company are you trying to build? VC-backed? Small & Bootstrapped? Why does building this company matters so much to you? What are the core values you believe in? How would these values manifest in the way you hire people?
- External Purpose – Why does it matter to the world? Who do you help by building this product? Is it really valuable to them?
- Communication & Trust – Do people feel comfortable sharing feedback and ideas? Do they understand the motivation behind the decisions made in different parts of the company? Are you willing to argue and fight for you believe in? Are you willing to eventually let go and help the person in charge to succeed in executing upon her beliefs, even if they’re opposed to yours? Are different individuals in the company allow their peers to learn faster by enabling experimentation (via tools and teaching) rather than guarding against mistakes (via checklists and roles)?
- Focus – Are you saying “No!” enough times a day? Are you building momentum for the critical parts in your business?
- Alignment – Are you building an organization that aligns all individuals to a greater goal, instead of optimizing locally (team level)?
- Hiring – Are you making sure that you don’t hire a “ninja” or a “hacker” that could not emotionally connect to the type of company you are trying to build? Are you hiring people who are better than you?
And here are some things you don’t really need:
- Tasks hierarchy to the 5th level.
- Gantt-like dependency visualization.
- Template-based for repetitive tasks.
- 100% accurate Velocity tracking.
- Single-click Gmail calendar integration.
- A mobile app that also works on your iPhone 3GS and your iPad 1.
Project Management tools may help you to manage your work more smoothly, but the question is not how fast are you able to deliver things but how fast are you able to learn that you’re delivering the wrong things and make the adjustments.
These adjustments will never be driven by using a better tool. It’s about your attitude, your culture, your DNA.
“But hey, I thought that it’s all about Execution!” It’s not. Well, it’s not the “Execution” you’re referring to anyway. This mantra is so popular today because we tend to read articles covering the top companies out there: Facebook, Google, Dropbox, Amazon etc. These companies already have a solid definition of purpose. They figured out how to scale their communication and hiring. These companies thrived because they were able to focus on customers, growth or revenues over time. Most chances, you’re not there yet.
This doesn’t mean Project Management tools are bad or evil. You may want to invest more in them, when your foundations and product are solid. Just don’t let “imperfect” Project Management tools to be an excuse for a failed business.
It’s like blaming a poor relationship with your spouse due to a lack of decent calendar app for your iPhone.
p.s. check out my latest side-project, SoftwareLeadWeekly – A free weekly email, for busy people who care about people, culture and leadership.