Sunday, June 1, 2014

All Things Agile - Episode 007 - Tips for Startups

In this episode, I tackle some common challenges faced by young start-ups trying to implement Agile. If you are a solo entrepreneur or have a few cofounders trying to launch a successful tech startup, then I certainly suggest you checkout today's episode.

As mentioned in the episode, I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. Of course, I hope that you will leave a 5-star review. I will try to mention reviewers in upcoming episodes. Here is a link to subscribe and post a review: itms:// 

All Things Agile - Episode 007 - Tips for Startups


Welcome to the All Things Agile Podcast! Your destination for tips and interviews with the leaders in the world of Agile. Don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, and please check out our sponsor: And now, here’s your host: Ronnie Andrews Jr.

Hello everyone and welcome to the All Things Agile Podcast! We have another great show lined up for you today. In this episode, we’ll be covering tips for startup companies. But before we begin, a friendly reminder to please submit an iTunes review. The reviews are very helpful and a way to acknowledge the great free content presented on this show. I also look forward to giving you a shout out in an upcoming episode. So let’s dive into today’s topic.

How to implement an Agile solution in a young company? A quick reminder that this podcast is for informational purposes only and accepts no legal liability. So, in the case of this episode, I will be defining a young company as 1-3 co-founders. A company certainly less than 10 members in total. Agile is often considered the cool thing to do. So many people try to start using it! A common mistake is to start Agile methodologies before having the critical mass to do so.

Let me take a moment to better explain. Methodologies such as Scrum are often designed for larger organizations and not 2 co-founders. For example, a typical Scrum practice is to have 7, plus or minus 2 team members. Having many team members provides resiliency. If a team member isn’t feeling well, goes on vacation or is otherwise unavailable, the team can still function. There are other team members available to absorb bumps in the road.

Also, don’t forget the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master. A fresh startup doesn’t likely have the resources to staff a team this large. Chances are a startup has 2-3 people, working long hours and performing virtually every role, including taking out the trash. Literally. So what other Agile approaches, such as Kanban? What about those?

Well, I definitely believe that Kanban is a bit more sexy at the moment and it certainly has its advantages. It’s a great tool for teams that are more queue based in the work, such as product support teams. It’s a lightweight approach with minimal formalities and that said, based on my personal experience though, I still believe that Kanban needs at least a minimal level of critical mass to be successful. I would recommend a team size of at least 5 to successfully implement Kanban. It can be a daunting challenge to build a Kanban team with only 2 or 3 founders who are wearing numerous hats. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but that it simply may not be wise.

So what can I recommend for a young startup? I would advise not worrying about trying to follow a structured methodology. If you are in the early stages of 1-5 company members, it’s great if you can adopt a full methodology, but you may find yourself focused more on following ceremonies, rather than the urgent needs of building a company. The key is to not worry about having an efficient team when you’re just starting. Instead, I challenge you to become an effective team. Simply put, if you are efficient, but not effective, it won’t matter because you’ll be out of business. Doing the wrong thing well, is still doing the wrong thing at the end of the day.

You can still apply Agile principles though. For example, the Backlog concept is a great way to ensure that you’re always working on the most important thing first. A young company certainly has limited resources. It is imperative that it focuses on the most impactful items first. This does not mean firefighting. Many small and even large organizations join in firefighting. They spend their day carrying a fire hose, putting out one fire after another. Does that sound familiar to, you know, perhaps your own company?

A significant danger in this approach is that the leaders rarely examine what is truly important to their business and customers. Successful companies must take the time to lay out their priorities and determine really what is impactful and focus on one thing at a time. The goal is to not do everything perfect. Striving for pure perfection is a fallacy and will just slow you down. A second suggestion is that you can leverage someone else’s expertise. If your company only has a handful of people, it can be hard to take advantage of traditional methodologies such as Scrum.

An ultimate approach is delegation. If your company needs a payment processing system. Rather than trying to spin up a large development team to implement it, why not leverage an existing payment service? In other words, learn to delegate and let other best of breed vendors do what they do best. If you are not able to directly afford to do so, you may want to consider joint venture agreements. You may be able to structure win-win deals that can expand your company without requiring large up-front capital.

Most entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to do everything themselves and they also try to have total control. As a result, they fail to delegate. And, they do so to their own demise. Learn to play to your strengths and delegate the rest. A third suggestion is flexibility. Many Agile newcomers try to follow everything by the book. The truth is you must know when to follow, when to bend and when to break the rules. Every organization is different. You must look at your company and determine what practices are truly practical for you. It’s not that the best practices are not valuable – they are! They are best practices for a reason.

However, not every practice will align well with your company or with your current size and maturity, especially as a young startup. Learn to adapt practices during your Agile journey. If you adopt some of these suggestions, your company can hopefully gain some momentum and start to implement the more full software methodologies later. When your organization has developed the critical mass of size, maturity and revenue – you’ll find these approaches to provide structure and sanity. Again, there’s definitely a benefit to some of the more structured Agile implementations. But I’ll say once again in summary though: depending on your unique situation, please consider different Agile implementations to better suit your needs. Focus on being effective before worrying about becoming efficient. In other words, learn to meet your customer’s needs and then learn how to do that efficiently through process and tools.

Play to your strengths and delegate to others so that your company can grow faster and avoid large, unnecessary development costs. Learn to be flexible and when to follow, bend and break the rules. Lastly, remember that Agile adoption is a journey, not an event. It doesn’t happen overnight and it really never ends. It’s a continuous refinement process to take your company to the next level.
With that said, I love startups! And I hope that you found this information very useful. If you’d like to find out more, please consider our email newsletter, by following the link on our website. You can even send me an email using [email protected]. I certainly look forward to hearing from each of you soon! And thank you very much for your support!

Thank you for listening to All Things Agile. We look forward to you subscribing to the podcast on iTunes and leaving a kind review. Thanks and God bless!