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Does Agile Methodology Give IT Entrepreneurs an Edge?

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"Agile" is, in essence, a method of software development based on iterative and incremental improvements. Requirements and solutions evolve over time through collaboration. At its best, "Agile" is actually an attitude, an understanding, a way of life, a philosophy. Entrepreneurs can turn great ideas into even greater businesses with a good understanding of this iteration driven philosophy, however when combined with latest management thinking - the combination is explosive!

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Purpose over profit....

Harvard Business Review has been exploring a change in business drivers over the past 18 months. It is a move from an organisation focus on profit to a focus on purpose. This may sound artificial at some levels, but it is deeply important. A profit focus often drives management teams down a dark alley of cost control and maximisation of profit for short term gain; this is a doom loop - avoiding innovation, risk and revolution. However, a focus on purpose frees the company to explore how to delight the customer first, Agile at it very core.

People are empowered....

In agile philosophy the delivery team is empowered, meaning they can make the day to day decisions on scope prioritisation, tactical change management and the evolution of the final deliverable. Conflict arises from those that have been used to signing off large requirement documents up front. On a large scale, clearly defined, well documented project, it is the sense of a deliverable for payment that drives the economic model. Agile is not about a different risk profile, it is about an approach. We iterate together to get a solution that is the best possible delivery in that time for that money based on what the user wants, does or understands and then iterate again to make it even better.

Did Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon know the full extent of the business models when they started? Absolutely not, yet many still want clear definition of the business model from the outset, rather than accepting that most models such as content, TV, telecoms, oil, gas or banking have indeed iterated to where they are today.

Clear alignment to business goals.

How often do companies, management teams and projects forget the rationale or the reason behind the initiative? How often does a political minefield emerge as time goes on? In agile, on every iteration, there is an "alignment between the phase and a business goal" so stakeholders can understand how this moves towards an overall solution. Often when posed with a problem or a difficult decision, the answer becomes very clear as soon it is considered in the light of the goals for the future as opposed to the ways of the past and present.

Collaboration

The trouble with a signed off set of deliverables is that we will not then question the plan, challenge assumptions or revisit the logic. Implementation according to agreed timescales is everything, even if it is wrong. This cannot work in practice when you want to grow a business. True entrepreneurs and funders understand that businesses evolve. The business stakeholders and team must agree to be involved in every step of the way so they can help refine ideas, discuss potential changes and make sure the users' best interests are kept at the forefront of the evolving solution as part of an overall evolving business model.

Evolution is neither good nor bad, it is essential

Evolution is a powerful concept and accepting it means that the unexpected is embraced and reacted to. Whilst evolution is a long term species strengthening survival mechanism, agile or iteration is its real time realisation. However, business, like product development is closer to a sailing boat than a train when thinking about getting to a destination. A train must go on the tracks and they take you where the tracks go. Changing tracks is a major undertaking that requires re-planning and a lot of work - kind of like re-engineering. A sailing boat reacts to the conditions, taking a slightly different route to avoid bad weather or to take advantage of flows and currents. Maybe, just maybe, this flexible scope approach based on trust and faith in a process that incrementally adds to delivery whilst retaining focus on what the customers really requires; could give IT entrepreneurs an unequal advantage.

Given that the real asset in an IT, tech or digital business is the team, it is only with true agility that people, purpose and passion can be constantly re-aligned. At a later date, I'll explore the delicate balance of fostering the creation of critical and important things not envisaged at the outset without losing the plot.