Panel Discussion
PMI India

Moderator: Sumeet Mathur (SM), global head of engineering, Broadcom
Speakers: Dr. Saji Gopinath (SG), CEO, Startup Mission, Kerala
Prajakt Raut (PR), founder, Applyifi
Heena Raval (HR), director, Google

SM: Across the different phases of a startup, what is the role of a project manager?

PR: There are two basic phases in a business – the discovering phase of what will work, and then replicating at scale what you know will work. In the first stage, speed to market and getting the job done is important, and it’s not necessary to do it efficiently. Hence, the willingness to adopt project management is rather limited here. At the stage of scaling, there is more willingness to bring in project management.

SM: Data suggests that nine out of 10 startups fail. Two-thirds of the ones that succeed change their business plan. How should project management evolve to cater to this world of certainty?

SG: We can draw a parallel between the way startups operate and agile project management. Applying project management to startups is like managing projects in a highly uncertain environment. In startups, use project management as a learning tool and to develop new frameworks such as Harvard’s Diamond Framework for R&D projects that are highly uncertain.

SM: How is execution different between a traditional services project and a project involving a product going into its fifth or sixth release?

HR: Project managers thrive in large organizations with structured processes. However, in intrapreneur projects within an organization, if the project manager is not ready to unlearn, there will be struggle. The product team wants to move fast, but the processes come in the way. Can we look at the processes to suit the end result, which could be the intended value or validation? Project managers can create value by checking whether the team is on the right track; if they are collecting the right data; or if they need to course correct. They can also create awareness in the leadership team about being prepared for the unexpected.

SM: What skills should a project manager learn or unlearn to be successful in a startup?

HR: You must focus on the value and outcome that you have created in the projects that you have run, and how you can use those insights to create value. Do not focus so much on the processes and the structure.

SG: The project manager’s role is not just to deliver a project but be a project leader. That change in mindset is important.

PR: People from large organizations must recognize that a startup is not a smaller version of a large company. Culturally, they are very different. You cannot just tell what needs to be done. You need to sensitize people in the organization about adopting a processoriented approach.