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Agile for Startups: To Be or Not to Be

13 Feb 2020

Agile is hands down, the most prominent software development and project management approach of today.  

It’s also a methodology of choice for startups across the globe. In fact, many startups which never heard of agile in the first place adopt many of the agile ideas and practices because they make a lot of sense for their way of work.

If you do make a conscious decision to use agile for your startup, everything depends on the ability of organizations to smoothly implement this framework. And make no mistake— this is a demanding project with a heap of moving parts. It has to be approached in a smart and organized manner. 

Thus, don’t base your logic on Agile buzz and hype, which many industries feature in spades.

The Agile Baseline 

Agile has several advantages over the traditional, Waterfall methodology. 

The first step is to get familiar with the differences between the two, as well as the fundamental principles behind Agile philosophy. The Agile Manifesto is a great starting point for your journey. 

It gives you a taste of what Agile is: a set of roles, events, activities, and artifacts aimed at managing and organizing work across the entire project lifecycle. You may be already confused by these terms, but fret not because we’ve got you covered. 

In essence, Agile is geared toward organizations seeking to improve their adaptability and flexibility. It encourages a faster time to market and puts customer needs (in the form of feedback) front and center. 

Higher agility also enables organizations to swiftly respond to change, which comes in handy when you’re aspiring to be a highly-dynamic startup. 

Furthermore, Agile encourages building products/services in short bursts called iterations. A strong emphasis is on communication and collaboration between self-organized, cross-functional teams. Based on a stream of practical insights, you then aspire to spur a process of constant evolution and improvement. 

This is especially important for bootstrapped startups which need to constantly add more value to their customers so as not to start lagging behind.

All of this isn’t exactly hard science. But, it is a tried and tested roadmap many startups champion in order to complete projects on time and budget. 

Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution 

Agile isn’t always a natural fit for a startup-level organization. 

It all hinges on what kind of company you own. Agile was pioneered and perfected in the area of software development. For many startups operating in this sector, it’s almost a no-brainer. 

This is largely due to inherent dynamics and fast-pace of deployment. These organizations employ small teams that pursue quick deliveries. They don’t struggle to overcome the inertia of established routines like many corporations do. 

In particular, software startups that want to launch their products as soon as possible are the best candidates for Agile transformation. But, there are some exceptions, such as a couple of individuals working on single solutions. 

So, do yourself a favor and take into account the following aspects:

  • Company culture
  • Structure and size
  • Leadership style 
  • Business strategies/plans
  • Industry sector 
  • Products/services 

These elements don’t have the same impact on the usefulness of Agile. Nevertheless, they should all be an integral part of the equation. We’re going to go into a bit more detail in the following chapter. 

A Double-Edged Sword 

When it comes to considerations like size, things seem self-explanatory. 

Tiny and tightly-knit startups should have an easy time incorporating Agile processes and practices. After all, most Agile methodologies prefer and often require small teams

But, one thing many startup owners overlook is future growth. Namely, if you plan to grow rapidly, you could run into some hurdles. Also, seasoned Waterfall veterans, whom you may hire down the road, could be reluctant to change their ways. 

Newcomers who turn out to be a poor fit for your culture might pose a similar kind of problem. Besides, not all leaders are comfortable giving teams self-organizing capacities and autonomy that stems from it.

This is all to say Agile transformation is not simple, but a multi-faceted proposition.

It must rest on strong foundations and requires tons of commitment. What’s more, it brings about the disruption that, in some cases, can derail projects and hamper startup growth. You have to experiment, which means fail in order to ultimately succeed. 

The lesson to draw from this section is clear. Don’t be short-sighted: plan ahead of time and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. 

Fast-Tracking Agile 

If you opt for Agile, you also have to pick the optimal subset of this framework. 

Some of the most popular pathways to project success are:

  • Kanban
  • Scrum
  • Extreme Programming (EX)
  • Lean-Agile Process
  • Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

The list goes on, but these five are, in our opinion, top choices. 

Kanban, for instance, is a go-to for numerous startups. The framework entails an ongoing system of reviews, discussions, evaluations, and fine-tuning

It revolves around balancing available capacities with client demand. Hence, it tends to minimize team fatigue and burnout, while ensuring peak productivity. That’s what you call a true win-win.

On the other hand, Scrum covers two critical bases: a need for speed and shifting client requirements. You use it to break down complex projects into phases called Sprints. 

Each of these iterations is supposed to bring product increments to life and propel you closer to delighting your customers. This pace calls for tight collaboration between teams composed of up to 9 members, as well as active stakeholder participation

Feel free to explore other Agile avenues before committing to one approach. Once you do, keep at it and don’t be dismayed by initial friction. Refine your game over time and gain a powerful edge over your competition. 

More power to you! 

Finding Your Own Way  

Agile is the king of modern product management and software development. 

It involves a shorter timescale and development of the product in small portions. Alas, the truth is not every product or service is suited for iterative delivery. In fact, you might be better off sticking to the good old guns.

Therefore, factor in all the particularities of your business context. Weigh the pros and cons and reach a well-educated decision. 

In case Agile is your choice, display a strong commitment to its principles and practices. Choose the right method to facilitate implementation and organizational makeover. 

Remember that this methodology is also a culture and philosophy. It’s meant to add value to your organization, the customers, and stakeholders. 

So, refrain from doing half-measures, as they do more harm than good. It’s time to master the art of continuous delivery and maximize your speed, productivity, and flexibility.