I have recently been tasked with organizing the current status at my company. We work on a number of publically and/or privately funded R&D projects, and the amount of work has been increasing, which that has translated into additional employees. One of our current issues is that we don't have any project management system in place, and as we grow the work we are doing has the feeling of being disjointed.

I think the root of the issue is that we have a startup-Jim problem: Jim knows everything about all of our work and has been here since the beginning - if he leaves we're screwed. I've been trying to not only ease his workload by taking it over, but also making it more visible to others by documenting in-progress work and conclusions to everyone else. That's an obstacle I'm still trying to address, which I hope will be addressed by a project management solution.

A majority of our work is focused on R&D of an innovative sustainable energy technology - not a computer-tech technology, and we want to get an idea of how the work we're doing relates to the end goal of commercialization of our product. From a project management perspective, is there a difference between building a deploying something physical vs something on a computer screen?

Most of the current project management solutions I've been reading about online are focused on coding, and for some reason it doesn't feel applicable to our work - I could be totally wrong here though. Take for example a basic Kanban system approach of To-do, In progress, and Done tags. Most of our 'Done' work becomes new 'To-do' work, and isn't necessarily determined from the get go.

Another issue I see with Kanban boards is that it's difficult to see how different projects with related work somehow tie together. That probably takes some more high-level thinking out loud with colleagues. That is totally acceptable.

  • Eh... Simply looking up the term kanban would tell you that it originally had nothing to do with software development. It was a way to control the supply chain and minimise holding costs. Note that "it's difficult to see how different projects with related work somehow tie together" indicates you have a serious strategic problem on your hands. Ultimately I'm not sure this question is a good fit for the site. The main problem is that you seem to be asking how you should be managing your company, which is just too broad a topic to begin to cover. A smaller-scoped version might be better.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 5, 2016 at 14:31

3 Answers 3


To complement on the other answers, an aspect may not have been discussed.

From your post, it seems that what you are after is mainly a strategy, that details goals, and objectives, possibly milestones, and ways to get there. If you have those goals, and the different things that need to be done, developped, mature etc... by then, you can then link each project (the ones you get funding for) to one or more of those objectives.

If you are wondering :

why are we doing/trying to do that at low level? How does it help us achieve our goals?

Then Requirements Management tools and techniques may be a good way to help yourself and your company.

To me, working in a hardware-based industry, a requirements management approach is a powerful way to answer these questions consistently. That should tie in with your project management (PM being more about dealines, milestones, costs).

Another (broader) topic is Systems Engineering. When a company starts building complex systems (note that a project and its organization can be considered a system), and wants to do so with success, experience has shown systems engineering (and requirements management) is the way to go.

To sum it up, look up the key words : Systems Engineering, Systems Thinking, Requirements Management.

  • This is the answer to my question, I'm trying to get a higher-level view of all the work we're doing. I'll look into these terms you suggested, and ask a more specific question next time if I run into any hiccups
    – cbcoutinho
    Sep 6, 2016 at 9:01

Fundamentally project management is pretty much the same, whether it's software, engineering or building a bridge. You set out objectives, milestones, procedures and everything else. You can make it as complex or as simple as you want. I do it all the time in my subjects of expertise.

The trick is to have someone who thoroughly knows the project from conception to completion and all the steps in between working on making the plan. Otherwise it gets messy.

The other trick is to pay them well for it, and hold them accountable.


Project Management is the same in almost all the disciplines with a few variations now and there, for example you can indeed use scrum not only for software projects but for all kind of projects: Scrum is not just for software

Agile methods like Scrum can be applied to any project effort to deliver improved results in ever evolving business environments, and do so in a manner that demonstrates visible, predictable progress toward today’s most important business priorities.

So it doesn't matter the field of applications, you can use scrum or other project management methodologies to organize your work.

Jim knows everything about all of our work and has been here since the beginning - if he leaves we're screwed.

About this part, it is a very common issue not only in startups, but in all kinds of companies that your business might depend on the know how of an specific employee, how to solve it? you need to be more process oriented rather than person oriented, all your business process should be documented and organized in a way that you can work even if your rock-star employee dies from a thunder strike, it might be easier to say than to do it, but believe me, if your business depends on one person is a recipe for disaster.

Furthermore, you can use several kinds of tools to have better visibility on your tasks and process, for example Asana is a really good to track projects and tasks, it's a collaborative TODO list where you can get an overall look of how your project is being done, you can asign due dates, subtasks, people in charge and so on, I'm in no way associated with Asana but I've used it for software and non software related projects, it's worth a try.

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