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Agile Lesson Learned: Iterate in the Marketplace

December 16, 2007 Leave a comment

Convoq (a.k.a. Applied Messaging, Zingdom Communications) closed it’s doors Nov 30, 2007. I feel very fortunate to work with a very talented and skilled group of professionals in these 5 years. I had a tremendous experience in leadership and management roles that fostered career growth for me. For a timeline of this business and a summary of what happened at Convoq read the blog entry “Convoq and Zingdom – Five Years” by Chris Herot, CTO and co-founder
http://herot.typepad.com/cherot/2007/12/convoq-and-zing.html .

I have to comment on Chris Herot’s list of lessons learned…

  • I can’t say enough about the first bullet in Chris’ list of lessons learned: “Iterate in the marketplace and not in the conferenceroom. Agile is the only way to go.” Especially in startup companies or divisions, where the need for a product or service is identified, but not yet clear how to meet that need, you have to get working product into the marketplace to fail fast. You need a culture that can work with the learnings and let that drive the iterations priorities, along with the larger strategic goals. This doesn’t mean you have to be reactionary to what people are asking for, but rather what people will use and how they use it.
  • The second bullet in Chris’ list of lessons learned is also important to highlight: “Just because you are using agile methods doesn’t mean you don’t have to plan. Write your stories before you begin an iteration, but don’t waste a lot of time on the details that aren’t needed until later.” This plays well into my blog entry “Agile peak performance in early startups” https://davidjellison.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/agile-peak-performance-in-early-startups. Not having stories ready and prioritized by the product owner (voice of business and customer) before the beginning of an iteration breaks the cadence that is so critical to consistent agile velocity. Keep the stories written at the requirements level, include the user statement for each use case (As an ‘actor’, I need to ‘task to perform’, such that ‘goal to accomplish’), include known acceptance tests (key tests that the requirement is built right), and the adjusted priority (1 to 10).

Iterating in the marketplace, and rapidly acting on the findings to adjust the stories and their relative order of priority for the subsequent iteration, allows you to “build the right product.”

Scrappy Executive

October 24, 2007 Leave a comment

I was recently described by a Venture Capital Partner as “scrappy” and that I can add more value to an early start-up than a later stage startup. I was puzzled by what he meant by that and asked a CEO from one of his portfolio companies who knew this VC Partner well over the last 25 years. This CEO said “scrappy is an attribute that means you do what’s needed to get the job done, not focused on managing your title, a street fighter.”

I guess this sounds like me. I always thought of me as a the steady guy who keeps his cool under pressure and instills best practice processes to steer the ship through all weather. But this analysis of my past 15 years of management in high technology industries illustrates a different view through a different colored lens. I’ve always been adaptive to changing needs in an organization and on many occasions stepped in or asked someone to step in to fill gaps that exist, even if they transcend the defined title or role.

I spent the last year and a half making the transition from a waterfall software development lifecycle to an agile one. There are a several tenants of an agile lifecycle that make this work, yet in an early startup sometimes you have to break in the process to adapt to a sudden need of the organization. I understand the value of not disrupting the stride of the Engineering organization too often or you wear out your crew. However, if you only work in rigid processes without the flexibility to adapt quickly you may not win enough battles to keep in the war and reach your goals.

Interesting reading about the Scrappy Executive…
http://www.founderblog.com/2007/01/so-you-need-to-develop-product.html

http://www.happyabout.info/wiki/Scrappy

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