All Agile Everything

A brief note on the importance of being agile in a startup, and that no single coach or even team should have a monopoly on the practice.

The word “agile” has many names (“lean”), a tendency to be over / mis-used (oftentimes by me ;)). But whatever we call it, the basic tenets – progressing in measured / deliberate but rapid iterations, embracing speed to learnings at the expense of perfection, the importance placed on insights in the determination of of time and resource investment – are at the core of most development and design efforts within start-ups. More by necessity than choice – there’s simply not enough money, time, or people to effectively solve problems and develop new products in any other way.

But why assume that agile only applies to engineers? Agile at its finest is embedded in the culture of the entire company – that includes the CEO/Founder. I’ve heard business leaders boldly proclaim “We embrace failure!” who were often the first ones to chastise efforts that “failed,” ordidn’t give the predicted results. It’s a leader’s responsibility to practice what they preach, setting the tone from the top down, by emphasizing the learnings from these efforts (and sharing learnings and “failures” of their own), that are essential to driving a mindset transformation.

And it’s not just leadership – innovation happens everyday, often times closer to the user than to the boardroom (indeed, the “user” could be a client or customer, but also fellow employees). Prototyping isn’t just about wireframes – it can be about trying new processes in recruiting, marketing, sales, and more – doing a rapid yet meaningful and deliberate test of a new approach.

My perspective, then, is that agile for product development is necessary but not sufficient. The most effective startups embrace the operational and cultural implications of an agile approach across all levels and all functions, making the pursuit and syndication of rapid insights the very fabric of an organization.

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