Question

What is the best project management workflow for early stage startups?

I'm interested both in tools you use, and your actual workflow.

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#Asana #Trello #Jira #Monday.com #Project Management #Notion #GitHub #Gumroad
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gruen's avatar
9 months ago
Whatever helps you answer the product/market fit question the fastest

To scope this answer, we'll define early-stage startups as "here's got an idea, let's see if it'll work" and consider projects as discrete (and possibly discreet) efforts to gather evidence and traction. Further, we'll define "best" as "fastest". Early stage startups often have limited runway; thus, time is the scarce resource.

For a new startup, the "best" workflow is entirely dependent on market, sales cycle, customer size, purchaser vs. user, and other fit considerations. A thesis that requires enterprise-scale consultative sales will have a much different workflow than a direct-to-consumer software play or CPG play.

There are, however, a few best practices applicable in almost all projects in the early-stage:

  1. Each project, and each subtask within a project, should be written down and have an owner—a directly responsible individual. Ideally, that person's name is written down next to whatever system-of-record hosts the projects. As projects are constantly in-flux and shifting, codifying responsibility is a great way to ensure limited resources are being used wisely.
  2. Each project should be working towards a metric, something that can answer the question "we know this will be working when...". The goalposts can change as the project progresses and the team learns, but keep a record of those changes to keep the team honest.
  3. Each project should be in service of establishing market fit.

Further, workflows should follow a Deming cycle regardless if the project is disposable or an ongoing concern:

Plan. Do. Study. Act. (Repeat where applicable.)

There are a few tools I keep find helpful in early stage—all of them resemble or can resemble a Kanban board one way or the other (in no particular order):

  1. Asana
  2. Jira
  3. Notion
  4. Basecamp
  5. Trello
  6. Github/Gitlab

Most importantly, reduce the number of tools and increase usage of those tools. For one, it's cheaper; for two, it's easier to work within a limited set of functionality than have to swivel-chair/alt-tab between multiple applications all day. A spreadsheet will often get you 60-80% functionality, and it's more important that the tool be integrated into the team's workflow than it being the perfect tool for the job. If it can also satisfy individual workloads, even better.

11 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @gruen )
9 months ago

Agreed on "A spreadsheet will often get you 60-80% functionality." Was just reminiscing with a former colleague last night about how we collaborated on projects years ago and remembered that the entire editorial planning for a network of sites was all Google Sheets. And it worked—we got stuff assigned, edited, scheduled, and published for years that way. Later on used Trello then a modified Airtable, and both had their advantages, but that spreadsheet got us most of the way there.

1 point
awwstn's avatar
@awwstn (replying to @gruen )
9 months ago

Each project, and each subtask within a project, should be written down and have an owner
Each project should be working towards a metric, something that can answer the question "we know this will be working when..."

These are great. It's so easy in startups to get wrapped up in the idea of avoiding too much process/bureaucracy, so I've seen simple things like the ones you've mentioned end up going to the wayside.

I've found Notion to be a really great tool for the early days of a company. Their Kanban is a bit more basic than tools like Trello have, but the trade-off is you can have every aspect of the project easily live in Notion. We've found it super useful.

1 point
iCanAutomate's avatar
8 months ago
ClickUp

Notion is overrated as hell. ClickUp is underrated as hell. I use both and can say this with utmost conviction.

11 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @iCanAutomate )
8 months ago

That is amazing.

Ok we're now going to need your detailed breakdown of what makes ClickUp so good—and Notion so overrated!

3 points
awwstn's avatar
@awwstn (replying to @iCanAutomate )
8 months ago

shots_fired

1 point
awwstn's avatar
@awwstn (replying to @awwstn )
8 months ago

🤦‍♂️ we need to add image support for comments. that was supposed to be a "shots fired" GIF.

1 point
iCanAutomate's avatar
@iCanAutomate (replying to @awwstn )
8 months ago

Haha OK so ClickUp is awesome because it is a proper project management tool that is beautiful and highly-customizable. It has every feature you need and also many that you probably don't. It is not exactly a Notion alternative especially if you use Notion for wikis. But for everything else, especially task management, roadmaps, etc., it is far superior than Notion.

Why Notion is overrated? Well here's why

The core use case Notion serves is taking notes or documenting stuff. When you take notes and document stuff, one of the goals is to easily an a quickly copy text and paste it elsewhere. Doing this on Notion is super annoying as you might already know. Copying a piece of text is not intuitive, requires additional clicks and if your text is being down in blocks and you paste that on say an email body, you spend more time just adding spaces and formatting the text. WTF.

7 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @iCanAutomate )
8 months ago

Makes sense. Notion's a notes app with project management tacked on (and some oddities from that); ClickUp is a project management app with notes tacked on.

I've got a full list of apps to try from you now!

3 points
awwstn's avatar
@awwstn (replying to @iCanAutomate )
8 months ago

@iCanAutomate I feel you on the copy/past stuff...but I really like the flexibility of Notion overall. Being able to spin up kanban boards within docs is super useful.

What do you like most about ClickUp compared to tools like Trello and Asana? This space has gotten so crowded the past couple years!

3 points
max_hodges's avatar
@max_hodges (replying to @iCanAutomate )
8 months ago

Clickup looks a bit over-engineers. So many options and features. I'd be afraid that it would get in the way of actually getting work done. I haven't spend much time with Clickup by any means, but I feel Basecamp is a happy medium. It's more minimal feature-set actually helps it to stay out of the way. I'll take a closer look at Clickup nonetheless!

1 point
max_hodges's avatar
@max_hodges (replying to @max_hodges )
8 months ago

god the design of this discussion forum sucks. I'm not coming bank until they allow us to edit comments. JUST USE DISCOURSE PEOPLE. I can't even find my own comments here.

0 points
integromat's avatar
@integromat (replying to @max_hodges )
8 months ago

ClickUp is highly customizable. Once you use it, you can't help but fall in love. And the UI is just sexy!

2 points
iCanAutomate's avatar
@iCanAutomate (replying to @max_hodges )
5 months ago

ClickUp is highly customizable. Once you use it, you can't help but fall in love. And the UI is just sexy!

1 point
brendanciccone's avatar
9 months ago
Use tools your company will actually use

@gruen covered a lot of great stuff regarding workflow, but I'd like to add my insight on tools as someone who's worked within a couple of early-stage startups.

The most important thing is to make sure that you have tools that people in your startup will actually use. Too many tools? Too complex? Nobody will use them.

I've tried pretty much every tool out there within the last few years and have found the best combination to be GitHub, Notion, and Slack. This has been echoed by companies like Gumroad and Sketch.

GitHub ends up managing milestones for the software, as well as tracking issues and the overall development work of the product. Do note you will need to pay for GitHub to keep your repositories private unless you're okay with them being public.

Notion can really act as your company's HQ and track all of your non-development tasks and goals in one place. It's very easy to turn kanbans into lists and many other views. It may be a little overwhelming for the first hour, but after spending a little time with it, you'll see the potential. This can be free up to a certain point.

Slack's free plan is more than enough unless you plan on storing files and need chat history. This is where I highly recommend implementing a standup bot so that every day or week everyone is updated with what everyone is working on.

7 points
awwstn's avatar
@awwstn (replying to @brendanciccone )
9 months ago

Yes. I think the worst situation is having a bunch of tools that are only being used half-heartedly.

For example, I love Notion and it's working really well with my current team, but I've been on teams where a couple people are all-in on a new tool like Notion while a bunch of other people are too locked into Google Docs, and then you end up with painful fragmentation.

Super important to have alignment.

4 points
brendanciccone's avatar
@brendanciccone (replying to @awwstn )
9 months ago

Absolutely and I think everyone needs to definitely be on board or get on board, otherwise things get lost, goals get missed, and life becomes an utter nightmare.

3 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @brendanciccone )
9 months ago

Spot-on about Slack's free plan; around a fourth of the teams who shared their Slack pricing on Capiche use the free plan.

The hardest thing in Notion is organization; hard to find a great balance there.

2 points
brendanciccone's avatar
@brendanciccone (replying to @maguay )
9 months ago

100% and I think that is probably the most challenging aspect of Notion. Getting it setup for everyone to work how they want it can be a little bit of a task. It’s definitely not as plug and play as say Asana.

2 points
max_hodges's avatar
8 months ago
Basecamp

Instead of scattering our work across multiple tools, Basecamp centralizes all project communication, task management, and documentation in one place.

Asana - very list based. But project management is about more than lists. Asana lacks shared files, places for unstructured discussion, and places for discussion that aren't exclusively connected to a TODO item.

Jira - never used it.

Notion - this is more of a Googles Docs replacement than a Project management tool

Trello - like Asana, Trello is certainly a useful tool for keeping track of things you're working on, once you list up your tasks, but managing the activities of a team project is about more than TODO lists

Github/Gitlab - how decides what to work on? Are the issues shaped up, or just a bunch of raw ideas? How is priority assigned? How designs solutions? Having a backlog is just one small part of a project management process.

Basecamp - give you list tools to keep track of ideas, and tasks. it includes Campfire, a Slack-like tool for impromptu discussion that stays connected to a specific project. Basecamp gives you a file section for sharing docs and assets, and a message board for making announcements, and getting team feedback on pitches.

Basecamp puts all our project communication, task management, and documentation in one place where designers and programmers work seamlessly together.

Shapeup is a great methodology for product teams about how to manage. It's created by the Basecamp team and full of eye-opening insights. The free book gives teams language and specific techniques to address the risks and unknowns at each stage of the product development process.
https://basecamp.com/shapeup

4 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @max_hodges )
8 months ago

The Basecamp team's books are really good. Thanks for mentioning Shape Up—I'd almost forgotten about that one. Rework is my favorite of their books.

4 points
max_hodges's avatar
@max_hodges (replying to @max_hodges )
8 months ago

capiche really needs to move to Discourse. I hate not being able to edit my posts to fix typos.

1 point
tmvst's avatar
8 months ago
Notion, Basecamp

My pick is Notion. Covers everything a team needs – roadmap, calendar, meeting notes, data tables. Things can be shared publicly with a link if needed. You can nest any type of content infinitely (although I don't recommend that haha).

I always try to use as few tools as possible. Easier to onboard people, and nobody forgets where something is.

Recently, Basecamp created a free version of their product, which made me try it, and I have to admit, I might like it more than Notion! It's highly opinionated, but that only makes it simpler to handle.

3 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @tmvst )
8 months ago

There is a danger in hiding stuff 37 layers deep in Notion—great power and responsibility 😃

3 points
faruque's avatar
8 months ago
Trello

From my experience, if you are in early stage, Trello works. Sure there are a lot of features it doesn't have natively, and reporting isn't all that great, but it's simplicity is what makes it work.

2 points
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