Imagine you have a beautiful tree with a potential to bear fruit every season. It doesn’t come for free—you have to tend to it. Water the seedling, shelter from extreme weather conditions, protect from pests. Manage resources, so they can last for months. The same goes for successful project management. Many companies, especially startups, have great ideas and deep domain knowledge but lack project management skills to build products with long-lasting impact. Here’s a shortlist of key success factors and handy solutions provided by companies like ours.

1.  Successful project management
starts with a strong team

Saying that every project involves risks would be trivial if it wasn’t for all those things that can be overlooked. And it’s not only about the software quality. Product design, user experience (UX), and user interface (UI) are critical to winning users over. To develop a FinTech software product, where so much depends on trust, you need a strong team. Senior developers, to be exact.

A good practice is to form a team of developers that have experience in handling complex projects. Choose people with mature competency in all areas crucial for your application. They have to be able to make independent decisions and recommend solutions. It’s vital they have not only seniority but are also comfortable with making intuitive choices, based on years of development experience.

Juniors or even regular developers are not seasoned enough. They tend to overthink and overanalyze everything, slowing down the progress. Every project starts with a big dose of uncertainty and you can’t afford to operate with inexperienced people. End-to-end development relies on qualified software developers and product owners who won’t break under pressure and will take responsibility for the end result.

2.  Minimum viable product (MVP)
for quick go-to-market delivery

Modern software is made with quick market verification in mind. It’s especially important for startups, since they usually have limited budgets and can’t afford to burn them on something that doesn’t work. Even if a company can secure another funding round, it has to show the investors something real to justify spending. Going to market with an app that has core functionalities (minimum viable product—MVP), has enormous benefits. It allows introducing a product to real audience and test business models, along with responses to most important features. The shorter the list of functionalities for the initial launch, the easier you can manage and finance the project. And then build on this foundation.

Building a new product usually starts with a high-level definition. Tools like roadmaps and product strategies help analyse and define the product at this early stage. Solid preparation helps on multiple levels. Developers know what they’re up against and how much work they need to put into the project. Planning also helps discipline the effort when new ideas come to mind, especially after the client feedback.

These additional changes are often small but can build up over time and suddenly go way beyond the initial concept. It takes restraint to fight that and put a product on a market that is “good and good enough”—not perfect in every aspect. If the temptation is not tamed, the project will last longer and cost more.

3.  Good product management:
rapid response and validation of ideas

Software product management often involves quick direction changes. You have to factor in the reality—the final product might not look exactly like you pictured it at the beginning. Product backlog, roadmaps and product features are one thing. Operational and production risks are a whole new ball game. Quick adaptation to product development realities is a must in successful project management.

Some things can be done the way they were meant but it might mean more money or more time. Pivots are necessary for startups, even at the very beginning, when the product is being made. A seasoned Product Owner who knows how to validate ideas is key. This specialist will reach out to potential users, analyse their needs, verify concepts, and test functionalities. Not every product owner likes to work this way but it’s a particularly effective method. The core of product management lies in accurate decisions made on experimentation, thoughtful risk-taking and validation.

Product management requires constant facilitation with the development team. It’s hardly a task for the product owner alone. Project management success relies on multiple stakeholders. Teamwork can save the day when sprints are done under pressure and unstable conditions, with multiple question marks along the way. That’s why top product owners continuously validate the project with the client and the development team. It’s necessary to understand both the concept for the product and its technical boundaries.

4. Testing and experimentation
beats planning and conceptual thinking

No matter if you’re building an innovative product without direct competition or introducing a twist to something already present—it’s easy to be charmed by the sheer idea and the projected profits. On paper, you can have fantastic plans but chances are few of them will translate well into the final product. By being ready to take a step back or try new directions you can help the application reach its full potential. Creative solutions to tough problems require not only the product development team but also you—the author of this groundbreaking app.

Have in mind that changes born in the process of brainstorming will have impact on the product and might affect the schedule. Agility of all stakeholders, combined with high-level technical competency, are necessary to move the project forward. All of this puts the app’s founding father under pressure. You need time to discuss all changes, go through them without rushing and work at least several hours a week with the team. It’s a time investment necessary to track progress but also to respond to feedback and consider new ideas that come with development itself.

5.  Gates for seamless decision making
and effective budget control

With a new product, you can’t simply develop it until money runs out, wait for a new funding round and pick up where you’ve left off. Since projects for startups need discipline but also quick reaction, developers have to tailor the process to meet the product’s needs. They have be confident that a given budget is enough to do something sensible and release the app within schedule. Because product development is a work in progress, all stakeholders need to see potential changes in real-time.

That’s where the gates mechanism comes into place. Gates are moments in a project that hold significant decisions. If you implement gates in a project (each holding real meaning), you gain control. The more control you have, the more changes you can introduce within budget. Business values have to go hand in hand with the spending. For example, after using 20% of the total budget we should all have a clear picture of the product and development should already start. Is everything going according to the plan at the 20% threshold? If so, we’re moving forward. If not, we’re going back to the table and think holistically about the product. That’s gate. A moment to look at what went wrong and what we can do for the project to still make sense.

Startup projects are tricky and often don’t make sense at any given stage. “The idea is not mature enough. The technology stack is wrongly identified. The project will cost three times more than we initially assumed. Wrong decisions have cornered us into a dead end.” That’s why you need to have enough of well-placed gates: to mitigate risks and control the project from start to finish. Even if you know things are going to change.

Gates can also benefit from relevant estimations, both in terms of time and cost. You can supplement them with another technique, called “earned value mechanism”. We compare the project estimation to budget realization and see what part of the project we have already delivered. These are good examples of having the product under wraps, without sacrificing the necessary agility.

Company culture drives KPIs and delivers results

The five factors above are essential but they are more or less technical. The one thing that binds them all is company culture. All these head-spinning changes, rapid prototyping, fast-paced development and constant communication won’t be possible without a favorable environment. In the end, it all comes down to people and their ability to serve clients.

A combination of project management, operations management and software development is necessary to turn an idea into reality. Without it, the client’s budget will end long before the product is fully developed. Integrating culture into business processes is what distinguishes an artist from a craftsman. There’s nothing wrong with the craft, but sometimes it’s simply not enough. Just like growing a tree until it bears juicy fruits requires both knowledge and commitment—and that’s next level.