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The Agile Methodology originated in the software development industry. It all started with the waterfall method, adapted from Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing style in the 1913’s by the same name. In 1970 it was accepted as the gold standard of software development because it brought discipline and certainty to the process. 

Before development started, every developer was expected to know the plan inside out, missing a small detail from page 54 of a big 200-page ‘spec’ could spell trouble. Then the team went on to build the software step-by-step, starting with basic components like databases, then adding functions and finally the user interface. However, this process often took months, and by the time it was finished, the needs had changed, making changes costly and difficult.

It was in response to these limitations of traditional, linear project management methods that the Agile Manifesto was born, drafted by 17 technologists in 2001.

The Four Pillars of Agile

At its core, Agile, as the name suggests, prioritizes human interactions and iterative planning:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: Emphasizing the importance of teamwork and collaboration rather than strictly adhering to tools and protocols.
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation: Focusing on delivering functional products rather than getting bogged down by exhaustive paperwork.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Encouraging ongoing dialogue with clients to ensure the project meets their evolving needs.
  4. Responding to change over following a plan: Being open and adaptable to changes even late in the development process, rather than rigidly sticking to a predefined plan.

Benefits of Agile Methodologies for Startups, Beyond Software Development

If you look at Agile values as project management methodology, then their values are, in fact, universally applicable to startups from any field. For a new entrepreneur, adopting Agile can mean:

3 Agile Methodologies you can apply to your startup

Let’s delve into 3 popular Agile methodologies that can be adapted for your startup, beyond the realm of software development.

Lean Development

Lean Development focuses on creating more value for customers with fewer resources. It emphasizes understanding customer needs, rapid iterations, and eliminating wasteful practices.

Graph showing the lean startup cycle

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How to use Lean Development for your business:

White cars with one red car in a line

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The pioneer of Lean Manufacturing, Toyota applied Lean principles to streamline production processes, reduce waste, and improve quality and efficiency in automotive manufacturing. This approach originally termed the Toyota Production System, emphasizes continuous improvement (Kaizen), respect for people, and standard work practices.

Kanban

Kanban is a visual workflow management method that enables teams to see the work that needs to be done, where it is in the process, and what has been completed. It deeply relies on real-time communication of capacity and full transparency of work.

Screenshot of a digital workspace using kanban

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How to use Kanban for your business:

Pixar logo on a blue background

Pixar, under the leadership of co-founder Edwin Catmull, adopted a Kanban approach to streamline its 3D animation production process. By implementing a high-level Kanban board along with lean manufacturing principles, Pixar was able to ensure sequential and complete work on each part of a film by the respective teams before it moved on to the next stage. This process not only enhanced visibility across teams regarding the status of the work but also empowered any employee to halt production if they identified an error. This preemptive measure prevented errors from moving further down the production line, thereby avoiding increased costs associated with fixing issues later in the process. Catmull detailed this innovative, manufacturing-inspired approach in his book, “Creativity Inc.,”.

Scrum

Scrum is an iterative and incremental Agile development methodology used to manage complex projects. It divides work into sprints, short, consistent work cycles, followed by review and planning sessions.

Graph showing the scrum process

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How to use Scrum for your startup:

Amazon parcel on wood floor

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Amazon and Spotify both adopted Scrum methodologies, albeit through different approaches. Amazon allowed Scrum to be adopted incrementally, driven by demand and at the grassroots level, whereas Spotify implemented Scrum through a deliberate, top-down strategy. Despite these differences, both companies utilize Scrum to foster autonomy and self-direction within teams. Amazon emphasizes stable, long-term teams and enhances collaboration through training and expert coaching. Spotify, on the other hand, focuses on creating autonomous teams that operate independently, prioritizing the quick removal of obstacles to facilitate rapid response, iterative product development, and scalability.

Go the Agile Way

Starting a new business is no small feat, but Agile methodologies can seriously lighten the load. They offer a solid foundation for sparking innovation, staying in tune with your customers, and adapting to change.

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