What Startup Owners Can and Should Learn from Agile Software Development

Learn from Agile Software Development

There are a number of reasons why some of the main principles of Agile and benefits that this approach brings are especially suitable for startups. For instance, survival of a startup often hinges on the success of a single project, which is why flexibility that the Agile approach ensures could very well be what saves your businesses.

It doesn't matter what kind of startup you are running, who your customers are, or what your budget is - if you have a product and have so far been sticking with the waterfall workflow organization, you will stand to gain by examining different Agile frameworks and adopting their best elements.

About Agile

When we say adopting their best elements, that might be a bit of a simplification. While Agile and the individual approaches derived from it both promote flexibility and require it, they don't prescribe much when it comes to implementing them.

Sure, you could pick and choose which elements of Kanban or Scrum to adopt, however, some of them simply won't work outside of the context they were meant for.

For instance, while daily meetings, or stand-ups are an essential part of Scrum, allowing the team to reorganize their workflow, eliminate bottlenecks and adapt to recent changes; without the elements like product backlog to guide their course, these meetings could easily turn into a waste of time.

So, while when reading about it, Agile may seem like a set of common-sense suggestions preferring individual interactions to processes and tools and flexibility to blind adherence to preformulated plans, there is a reason many software development companies are having problems with adopting this approach, even though they are the ones it was developed for.

That's why, if you do want to try and make your startup more efficient and responsive to change in this manner, you need to be careful about actually making the transfer.

If you don't already have someone who's familiar with these frameworks in your team, there are certain revealing agile interview questions that can help you determine if your next hire might be competent enough to help you with the transition.

Now that we've addressed the basics of Agile, it might be time to also take a look at what you stand to gain by making the switch.

Optimizing the workflow

Larger companies with hundreds of employees sometimes stick to the inflexible established procedures simply because that is the only way to keep some structure.

Startups rarely need, or even, can afford to be so rigid. While you are still growing, you'll have fewer employees, working on fewer projects - you don't need a rulebook carved in stone in order to keep everything organized.

Quite the opposite, this kind of inflexibility is only likely to hurt you.

By taking a few notes from Scrum Agile framework, like introducing the concepts of a prioritized backlog and daily meetings where the tasks it contains would be allocated to employees with time and skills needed to complete them; you could ensure that you are getting the most out of the people you have, and that every precious moment of their time is going towards something that is going to bring quick and tangible results.

Quick delivery

Startups are under constant pressure and scrutiny from their investors, who are often waiting for the first hiccup to withdraw their support. Constant delivery of finished, functional segments of the product, which is one of the things characterizing Agile approach, is one of the best ways to keep them at ease and secure in their investment.

It is not just that you have presented them with an obvious, tangible mark of your progress. The fact that you can deliver completed individual segments of the product assures them that you could easily pivot or make a less drastic change of course during the development process, should the market demand it.

The findings of EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) from 2017 seem to indicate that no less than 73% of startups have to, at one point, not only make drastic changes to their model or offer, but actually completely pivot to another market. Assuring investors that you are adaptable severely reduces the risk of the project failing in their eyes, giving you some breathing room.

Improving communication

Agile is about adapting to changes without losing a beat, and that requires constant synchronization of the involved elements. It also requires you to stop relying on fixed procedures and understand that they are dragging you down more often than helping you.

Even if you've found a perfect way to do something once, the next time you need to do it you might find a better way, due to different circumstances, new colleagues, your greater experience...

That's why every issue is tackled anew, which would never work without smooth and constant communication between team members.

Any kind of Agile adoption, whether you are a software development startup or not, is bound to fail if you don't adhere to one of its main principles - providing the employees with the opportunity to self-organize. While most Agile frameworks set some roles needed to guide the process, they do away with hierarchy for the most part.

Team members brainstorm problem solutions together, collaborate in assigning tasks to those moist suited to complete them, and finally review their progress to learn what they could improve the next time.

The freedom to self-organize leads not only to the reduction of waste in man hours, it also improves internal communication by actually placing the team in an environment where they can feel like they are a part of team, heading for the same goal, with everyone contributing to the area where they can be of most help.


Large organizations can't afford to try adopting Agile practices only half-way, but have to go all-in, including the changes in company culture, infrastructure and manpower.

On the other hand, startups can easily take some lessons from this mindset, without having to restructure their entire operation.

From believing in your employees enough to give them the freedom to self-organize to ensuring that you never get bogged down in endless planning only to realize that the market requirements have changed, Agile frameworks do require some adapting on you part, but they promise so much more in return.

Guest Author

Jug Babic

Jug Babic is a marketer at VivifyScrum, a company behind the eponymous Agile project management tool. You can find him on Twitter @BabicJug