Project Management? What Is That and Why Do You Need It?

An operational VC is a startup’s best friend, and project management principles are the way to get things done

By Rainer Berak

When I started at Project A late 2013, the first reactions of my new colleagues had a critical undertone “You’re doing project management? No, you mean product management?”, or “You mean like waterfall with MS Project? We don’t do that.” The good thing was that my colleagues and I were in a similar position: We were all entering new grounds, because — coming from a more corporate background, I made my first steps in the startup ecosystem.

Before joining Project A, I worked for FIFA during the World Cup in 2006, as well as the European Championships in 2008 and 2012. We had a great team full of experts with an impressive track record in international sports events. What was missing was someone who would get them organized, focused, define and watch deadlines, smoothen communications between teams, the board and the local organizing committee. And I ended up being that person.

The mission of a project manager is simple to me: Getting things done in time, within the budget, within the agreed scope. Definitely risk and quality are important and people matter — a lot! And it is not just common sense, but there is a set of methodologies, and obviously a certain mind set which will help along the way. Agile or waterfall, MS Project or a whatever-latest-SaaS-solution? I couldn’t care less. You get professional tools for money and the less good ones for free. Use Notepad if you like, but use something! Apply the methods that help you with your specific situation — this will do the trick.

You might ask yourself isn’t a startup context completely different? Do you really need project management here? Don’t we need to be free in what we do and how we do it, as long as we succeed? And what about the founders? Isn’t that part of their job to manage the projects of their company? Sure, founders might be great project managers. Just… We are an Operational VC and we don’t want to rely on that. No matter if you are in the seed phase or later stages: founders need to focus on various entrepreneurial tasks, such as recruiting a talented team, pitching for investors, being responsible for a whole company. You have to keep things going well — and this simply helps you.

Of course, the administrative structure and organizational overhead of a global sports event is slightly different from the processes and the culture in the startup ecosystem. But the principle remains the same: Too many things need to be done in very little time. Simply put: you need the right people, who are able to find a solution for this dilemma. The spotlight is on for the project manager: Defining the goals and the structure for the ventures and the projects, supporting them with best practices, acting as sparring partner and providing a step-by-step plan. This is something an Operational VC can and should do, helping its ventures to be successful and to make best use of their resources.

Today, Project A has a whole team of people who do exactly this. And when they are introduced, what others say about them is: ”These are the ones who make sure you get your shit done!”