Over the past few weeks, I've interviewed over 15 managers, CTOs, and small business owners to learn about how they perceive and accomplish project management. We're trying to build a high-level project management tool for small businesses. Understanding (and identifying) our customers is the most critical task for us right now.
So far, here's what I've learned:
Not everyone thinks they have projects, but most do
The definition is very fuzzy, but a project is a group of related tasks that attempts to accomplish a goal. Projects start and end, they don't go on forever.
Several small business owners I spoke to didn't think they have projects that fit this definition. Their work was about individual tasks or never-ending processes, or at least that was their perception.
Lots of meetings and overhead
Most managers spent 3-15 hours a week (!!!) in meetings discussing projects. No working on projects, just discussing them. What is actual the project status? What happens if we change the project order? Should we change the scope?
Lots of missed deadlines
Only one company I spoke with hit their deadlines. Their policy was to hit your deadline or be fired. They worked a ton of overtime, if necessary. Everyone else missed most of their estimated deadlines. Everyone continually pushed back estimates and deadlines. Managers instinctively doubled or tripled estimates. Managers spent even more time in meetings figuring out how to rearrange the schedule, yet again.
Lots of delayed projects, both important projects and maintenance projects
It was common for companies to focus on urgent projects, as the expense of game-changing, important projects and chore-level maintenance tasks. Naturally, the maintenance tasks turned into urgent projects and continued the cycle of not getting the important work done..
No perceived pain
Most managers were totally fine with this situation. They were fine with spending hours every week in meetings. They were fine with constantly missing their estimates. They were fine with not getting the important work done. They weren't happy about it but had given up trying to solve the problem. It's just how Business™ is done.
This learning terrifies me. Part of my job is selling a tool that solves this problem, and if no one is searching for a solution, my job is a lot harder.
Fortunately, I did find two managers who were desperately searching for a solution. One owner of an architectural firm spent an hour begging for us to save to build a big-picture project management tool so he could get his time back. This gives me some hope.
Hiring to solve
Many companies have "solved" these problems by hiring project managers. The overhead is still there, but now someone else is responsible for it.
Questions to research
I still have a lot to learn and uncover:
- Should we market Burndown to small business owners before they hire a project manager? Or should we market to project managers and make their job easier?
- Should we market Burndown evangelically and convince people there's a better way? Or should we market to the much smaller group of people who feel the pain?
- How much time will Burndown actually save project managers? It should make priorities clearer, conflicts more obvious, and schedule options easier to compare, but is that 20 hours a week or 2? Can I estimate this from interviews or do we need to survey actual users?