One fundamental challenge faced by all businesses, big and small, old and young is in finding the balance between efficient organisation and flexible adaptation.
Imposing too much structure on projects or the organisation as a whole can stifle creativity and leave the organisation unable to cope with sudden changes brought on by unforeseen circumstances. Conversely, too little structure can have the obvious effect of allowing projects to spin out of control or fail to meet external deadlines.
This is by no means a new dilemma. Different sectors and industries have found unique, tailored solutions to the problem, some more effective than others. One of the strongest approaches to come out of the tech industry, from software in particular, is the Agile methodology.
The Agile methodology has many different components that cannot be easily distilled. It also has almost as many definitions as it has implementations. However it generally incorporates approaches such as self-organization, cross collaboration and adaptive planning with short sprints and functional iterations.
The goal is always to create a practical process that can respond rapidly to change. It requires a balance between providing just enough structure to keep everything on track and everyone effective without creating unhelpful constraints or process bloat.
It is a process that is particularly beneficial to startups in a number of ways.
Compared to other forms of business, startups spend a greater proportion of their time and energy promoting their product. This is because it is generally an untested, unproven product that still needs funding, investment and ultimately sales on the open market.
A core element of Agile methodology involves producing working products in regular iterations. Even where a working iteration cannot be readily developed the process suggests demonstrative mock-ups over descriptions.
A working product that clients and investors can physically use, whatever stage it is at, is a much more powerful sales tool than a vague concept described in writing or in words.
As a start up you have to make a lot of substantive business decisions without experience of how they might pan out and what their effect may be. However you don't have resources to spend time weighing up these decisions before you make them.
Agile emphasises short production cycles that allow for ideas to be implemented and tested quickly to gather feedback and data informed decisions can be made.
Startups will generally have relatively small working teams under a lot of pressure. Friction between employees at a startup can pose a major risk to its viability.
The autonomy of working groups and their cross-functional makeup might in other circumstances inflame tensions but where all participants have an understanding and appreciation of the Agile methodology it can vastly improve working relations. Team members feel empowered, trusted and valued for their expertise.
Businesses benefit from Agile most when they adopt it as a startup rather than later in their development. Integrating Agile methodology from the beginning means it becomes a core element of the business that informs operations rather than appearing as an eternally imposed process that has to be adapted to existing working practices.