Eric Reis’ book The Lean Startup, teaches a methodology for getting to market faster cheaper, and more efficiently. The lessons from The Lean Startup apply to all corners of business and have dramatically changed how projects, from software builds, to new ice cream flavors, to the launch of marketing campaigns, are iterated.
But how do you put the agile methodologies The Lean Startup teaches successfully into play?
Geoff Wilson, the founder and President of 352 Inc., an 18 year-old company that began in his dorm room and has grown to a multi-state digital product development powerhouse, credits 352 Inc.’s success on the organization’s adoption of agile methodologies to all aspects of the business from coding to management.
He shared six ways his company implements this approach effectively:
1. Consider a Sailboat.
A good way to get clear on the vision for a new product is to conduct a “sailboat exercise.”
First, visualize the goal for the product, which is represented in this exercise as an island. The island is where the team wants to direct the boat.
Next, determine what wind is in the boat’s sails. The wind represents the resources at the team’s disposal to make the journey towards the island successful. Knowing what resources are available is a confidence builder for the team.
Then, identify any anchors that will slow down the boat on its voyage. Anchors represent internal roadblocks, like office politics, procedures, or policies, which get in the way of the boat reaching its destination.
Finally, identify the icebergs that exist between port and the island that will sink the ship. Icebergs represent external roadblocks that will hurt the project.
2. Tell an Epic Story.
In the world of software development, an epic is defined as “a large user story that awaits decomposition into smaller stories prior to implementation.”
An example of epics: if the team is developing a website for a trade conference, they identify the musts – a session list, resources on travel and location, and a sign up feature, for example. These features are an epic for the project.
To ensure success, the stakeholder must list out all the epics required for the project so the team has a high level summary of the features or functions. This list of epics is then prioritized, so they are tackled in order of importance.
3. Pick the Right Team and Let Them Focus.
Dedicate a team to take the project from inception to completion.
The team needs to be cross functional in nature, with team members encompassing all of the key skill sets necessary to build out the project or campaign.
Ideally, the team will be 100% focused solely on this project. In Geoff’s experience, a focused team produces the best outcomes, and singular focus gives them the ability to respond to feedback more effectively than if team members have additional responsibilities outside the project.
4. Ready, Set, Sprint.
The team understands the ultimate destination for the project, but what can it get done now? What can it get done in the next two weeks?
The duration of the sprint is variable, but two-week increments have proven to be a good sweet spot for moving projects forward. This limited time period allows the team to see incremental success towards their goal while providing opportunity to pivot if they run into problems or determine a new course.
5. Ensure Constant Accountability.
Team members sign-up for what they believe they can get done during the sprint period and they are required to report their progress to the client or internal stakeholder every day.
This is best done through a consistent daily standup meeting, which lasts 15 minutes. At the meeting, each team member stands up and says what they accomplished in last 24 hours, what they’ll do in next 24 hours, and what roadblocks are inhibiting their progress.
This continuous feedback loops creates total transparency and self-accountability.
6. Include User Feedback.
Geoff’s final recommendation about running successful projects is to be diligent about getting user feedback. Iterations will only be as good as the feedback received from users and running user tests to improve the product is paramount.
Teams should continue iterations and improvement as long as the iterations move the needle in a positive direction.