Why high-potential tech start-ups should master Agile to survive?

This article was previously publishied on Linkedin

About Martijn Martens: I'm a Head-of-product for 25Friday and we help digital start-ups and scale-ups succeed. Our weapon of choice.... Product Management. I want to share my experiences and views as a Product Owner, having worked in both larger tech scale-ups and smaller tech start-ups. Interested? Feel free to connect.

Never, ever, go “full-retard” on implementing proposed Agile methods when you are a start-up or scale-up…

startups and scaleups should be using agile best practices to scale

Before I explain why start-ups and scale-ups should master Agile to survive, let me first address a common misconception. I know that there are many advocates that claim that start-ups and scale-ups are Agile by default. They say that “Lean” and “Agile” are devised for larger companies that aim to have less overhead and trying to slim down.

In my opinion, these advocates are wrong. Agile create an organsation that is customer focussed and is aimed to deliver a high-quality working product using fast iterations. If applied correctly, these gains are true for any company, either big or small.

The major difference between smaller and bigger companies is the extent to which they tend to implement an Agile method or framework. In my experience you can easily go from 0 to 100 employees with just the basic structure of e.g. Scrum. If you do it properly and focus on Agile principles, you will have all the benefits without the need for more control or overhead.

So, it’s important to never go “full-retard” on implementing Agile “frameworks” in a small company. Also if learning, don’t try to collect all the suggested “certifications” and “frameworks”. Just read the agile manifesto and spend more time on getting the basics right (this includes failing and trying again). Focussing on the basics will grant you lots of gains and everyone has more fun doing it.

Agile is a great way to create focus – even if it’s just for the next 1 or 2 weeks

Most start-ups and scale-ups are trying to do 100 things in parallel. Usually they haven’t set real targets and people get interrupted every day or hour. In essence, bad feeding grounds for doing Agile software development or delivering a high-quality product every week.

Just by introducing 1 or 2 weekly sprints (do not forget having a goal), you already create a real sense of peace and quiet. Off course ad hoc stuff will still come in, but at least you will start making informed decisions whether to break the sprint, say no, or postpone work to the next sprint.

Keep in mind that for product people and devs, focus is extremely import for delivering a quality product. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to include this element in your company’s culture at an early stage. The benefits will be huge when you become bigger really fast.

Making work transparant enables you to act as a team

A typical early-stage company will include many people to jump into every gap that they see. The tech guy is doing sales, the CEO is doing UX, the marketing guy (he’s/she’s good with excel) is doing finance. It’s good to fill in gaps if needed, however, it’s not good to randomly do each other’s work.

Most Agile methods force you to make your work transparant. This also applies to the business-side of things. Then, when you look at all the work as a team, people will be less inclined to go outside their typical role. Making work transparant as a team, will avoid that you keep getting in the way of your fellow colleagues/founders.

So what now? Cherry-pick from Agile to tackle those typical start-up pains

In the above sections I’ve illustrated how several typical start-up/scale-up pains can be partly solved with lessons and practices drawn from Agile.

If you are a early-stage tech company (or latter stage for that matter), don’t go crazy with all the exhaustive Agile frameworks. Focus on proven principles that help you to make a better product and become a better team. Thus, keep it simple, do not reinvent the wheel, make sure you get the basics right and you have a better chance of survival.

Did you like this article? Want to know more or have a chat? Feel free to connect to me

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