4 Agile Startup Hacks that Can Transform Your Business

Author

Neil Patel, Contributor

November 28, 2014

Agile management is a popular form of project management that dominates the world of software development. Agile is certainly a great method for software development, but it can have a powerful impact on any startup, regardless of the startup’s nature, product, or deliverable.

Articles about agile management usually get bogged down in jargon like “continuous innovation,” “iterative development,” “rolling wave planning, “nondeterministic approach,” or “adaptive project life cycle.”

Those terms mean nothing to the uninitiated. What I want to propose instead are four actionable tips that give you agile results without having to learn a whole new approach to management.

1. Set small attainable goals.

Agile management insists on incremental iterations in the completion of a large scale project. To put that in simpler terms, you don’t bite off more than you can chew. You work on big projects little by little, inch by inch.

The agile method was originally designed so that developers could develop a little bit, then test it, develop a little bit more, then test it again. Projects last from a few weeks to a few months, never any longer. Teams consist of a manageable group — no more than nine people. This group has discrete control over a project.

Such a technique works for more than software development. As Jean-Loup Richet at ESSEC Business School in France explains, “This approach can be leveraged effectively for non-software products and for project management in general, especially in areas of innovation and uncertainty.”

The incremental approach simply makes sense from a goal-setting standpoint. According to the S.M.A.R.T goal-setting approach, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Small and attainable goals are the exact approach of an agile management methodology.

2. Produce something by your deadline.

The agile method is ruthless in its approach to deadlines and deliverables.

Agile uses something called the “iterative process,” which basically means that every project has a hard and fast deadline. That deadline doesn’t move. That deadline doesn’t get pushed back. That deadline stays, even if the sky is falling.

When the deadline arrives, you look at what you’ve made or done — anything. It may be embarrassing. It may be awful. The code might look like garbage. The design might look like trash. But you have something.

Something is always better than nothing. And with that little something, you can make decisions, changes, provide feedback, and critique to your heart’s content.

This is a formula for success. The goal of a startup is to start up. The only way you can do that is by having something. It doesn’t need to be the final product, and the customer won’t see it. But the important thing is, you’ve created something, and you can only improve from that point.

3. Make rapid changes.

A startup must work at breakneck speed, responding with lightning-fast reflexes to change.

Change happens. Projects may need to be terminated. Funding might dry up. Offices may be moved. Startups are hothouses for change.

Growth doesn’t happen without change. That’s why the agile methodology is such a powerful approach to success. The agile method has flexibility and adaptability — also known as smart change — built in.

In order to make rapid changes, the decision maker must be doing two things. First, he or she must be present and engaged in the actual development process. It’s hard to make decisions on something that you don’t know anything about. Second, he or she must make quick decisions. A decision, even a wrong one, is helpful, because it helps the project advance.

Big companies have a hard time with change. Change is upsetting. Things break. Stultified routines get upended. Standardized protocols get wiped away.

But that’s exactly how success feels. It feels out-of-control and possibly quite dangerous — like jumping off a cliff or out of an airplane.

4. Scrum.

A scrum is a meeting that helps team members plug in, get engaged, and get stuff done.

The scrum meeting is usually held at the beginning of the day when everyone can attend. In keeping with agile’s time-boxed approach, the scrum is a maximum of fifteen minutes.

The scrum is held in an open area of the office. During scrum, team members stand rather than sit. Each individual, in turn, states what he or she is doing that day. In essence, the team member is making a commitment to the rest of the team about the day’s goals and accomplishments.

The goal of the scrum is to keep the overall project on task, and to eliminate any obstacles in the path of completion. If a team member has a concern or question, it should not be addressed during the scrum. Instead, anyone who is involved in that concern or question meets after scrum to solve it.

Scrum meetings successfully eliminate the time-wasting boredom of piling on additional meetings on during the day. Plus, each team member stays on track, allowing them to get meaningful work done.

Conclusion

You don’t have to embrace the entire agile method in order to benefit from the agile approach. With a few well-placed adjustments to your current style, you can begin reshaping your company in a way that eliminates obstacles and creates progress.

What agile methodologies do you use in your organization?

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