Agile Methodology in Start-ups
Strategies, techniques, structure. Upon establishing any new entity, whether it be a team of people or an organization, these are indispensable, especially when the stakes are high. Take the world of start-ups where only 10% survive their first year of business; for these new companies, there are several types of methodologies and frameworks that they can adopt to not only survive but rather thrive successfully in the dog eat dog world of business.
If you have worked in tech, you may have heard the terms scrum, feedback, backlog, or sprint thrown around, and these all have a shared origin: Agile methodology. Agile methodology is one of the project management methods that has had a successful run since its recent creation in 2001, and you can learn more about its foundation, meaning and well-known offshoots here.
What is the Agile methodology?
When you hear the word agile, the synonyms that come to mind could be fast, adaptive, rapid, nimble, or active amongst others, and as these words suggest along with agile, this philosophy for project management focuses on iterations and continuous and incremental improvements to the product. These allow for the teams to adapt to the needs and desires of the clients and customers by giving their voices more weight in the equation while also prioritizing consistent communication amongst all team members in order to divide and conquer with their goals in mind, which simplifies the process of making adjustments to their product.
How did it come about?
After ninety plus years of mainly using the Waterfall methodology, a strategy that was created by Henry Ford in car manufacturing with the assembly line, the advancement technology made this method both inefficient and old-fashioned. A group of seventeen representatives that worked in programming and development decided to make a change and come together to discuss and create a new methodology that would ease their disappointment, shake up the status quo, and revolutionize the tech world. The result: the Agile Manifesto.
What is the Agile Manifesto?
The seventeen programming and development professionals, or what came to be known as the Agile Alliance, established a list of values and principles that would come to instruct those in how to best take advantage of the approach. Both the values and principles are a philosophy of beliefs that focus on the client’s role and responding to and meeting their needs with a quick turnover rate.
Since this was a new methodology for project development, they had criteria to compare the ways of the past with how they wanted to make future changes. The values established attempt to emphasize the importance of the words on the left over the ones on the right, although they are both important for any project’s development:
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
4. Responding to change over following a plan
You may notice that these values represent more of an adaptive organism that evolves thanks to the clients’ input and feedback, which prevents the product from ever becoming stuck or stagnant. It’s constantly developing and undergoing slight adjustments. The product isn’t destined to remain in a vacuum; on the contrary, change is both valued and streamlined to stay up to date with the needs of the customers.
In addition to the values explained in the Manifesto, the principles expanded upon them and added more specific details to the Agile philosophy:
1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
3. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
4. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
5. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
6. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
10. Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.
11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Although the Agile Alliance was more focused on project management for software, which is especially evident after reading the principles, Agile methodology can be used for all types of project management as a fundamental philosophy.
Similarly to the values section that focuses on the customers, the individual workers, feedback and incremental modifications, the principles section of the Manifesto builds more on the foundation, while also elaborating upon the importance of daily collaboration, support and communication amongst team members, project managers and higher-ups and the always-improving quality of the product in question.
How do start-ups use Agile to complete their projects?
Thanks to the Agile Manifesto laying down a framework, professionals founded other methodologies that maintained the same beliefs, built upon them and implemented them in actionable ways. Two examples of popular methodologies that are based on Agile are called Scrum and Kanban.
By using the Scrum methodology, a team will work together under the leadership of a scrum master in brief iterations that tend to last one to four weeks. These short iterations are called sprints, and the scrum master supports their progress, morale and communication by holding daily scrum meetings and providing feedback. Another tool in their toolbelt is the scrum board, which is a visual representation that allows the team to see what the product backlog requires them to finish for the current sprint.
The focus behind managing a project with scrum is a quick turnover rate and consistent improvement.
While Scrum is all about sprints, Kanban is an ideology that believes in a continuous workflow that is broken down into stages. Not only are they different in their belief on time, they also disagree on the idea of roles; in Kanban, there are none since their tasks are based more on a Kanban board that are separated into three categories: Planned, Doing and Done.
Visualization is an important aspect of Kanban as well because it provides visibility and easy access to the project. Also Kanban practices intend to maximize efficiency by reducing works in progress and implementing a constant feedback loop.
Despite the fact that they have their differences, Scrum and Kanban share their foundational elements of Agile project management and even have their own principles and guidelines similar to the Agile Manifesto.
Why is it important to know about Agile?
Understanding the foundational elements and some of the different tools methods found in Agile is important if you’re going to work in a tech career nowadays given that more than 70% of American start-ups are using it. Ironhack believes that learning is key, in addition to the courses that are offered, information about project management has real world application that will be important moving forward and launching the tech career that is on the horizon!
About the Author
Adam is a teacher, translator and writer living in Madrid, Spain. He’s also studying to become a therapist. Since he is bilingual he teaches both English and Spanish and loves to write in both languages as well. He writes his own blog posts on Medium about mental health, psychology and his journey to self-discovery.