An entrepreneur’s job involves managing two very important resources; time and money. They both are hard to get and also enormously difficult to replace. Any business startup faces many challenges and potential failures as they introduce a new service or product model into the market.
These initial failures and mistakes are not final and if well applied makes the company stronger and more competitive. The financial cost of any failure is the most painful, the resources (time and money) that were spent before the recognising that the direction taken is the wrong one.
This is why entrepreneurs are learning to employ the hard stop technique applied in agile project and business management to monitor budget and product development timetables for their companies.
In this article I am covering how startups use hard stops and agile management techniques. The following techniques are effective tools and methods for meeting the need to continuously evaluate the development process of a new business, service or product and to filter what works and what does not.
So what exactly is agile management or agile project management?
To summarise, it is an iterative and incremental method of managing the design and build activities for engineering, information technology, and new product or service development projects in a highly flexible and interactive manner, for example “agile software development.”
Agile project management
Agile project management focuses on continuous improvement, scope flexibility, team input, and delivering essential quality products. Agile project management methodologies include a number of terms and activities; “scrum, extreme programming (XP), and lean” among others.
These methodologies all adhere to the Agile Manifesto and the 12 Agile Principles, which focus on people, communications, the product, and flexibility. For a more background and a brief history of agile project management, origins and key players check out this article on TecRepublic.
The delivery time for agile project management is fixed. This is what is known as a sprint. A sprint usually takes duration of 4 to 6 weeks with a shorter time being better. The team working with agile project management must agree and produce a written agreement on the deliverable’s they aim to achieve by the end of the sprint.
For agile project management, time is fixed but what is delivered keeps on changing. The time limit is known as a “hard stop.”
Agile business management
Business owners and smaller company executives can use the Agile method to manage any project or business process. To clarify objectives, fixed time limits must be enforced by business leaders. The team’s energy and priorities’ are better focused by this kind of time constraint.
They understand that there are no extensions and must deliver by the expiry of set time. Though the time is fixed and scope can vary depending on the type of management, the future sprints and scope of work which is progressive and iterative.
The hard stop
Individual team members are evaluated according to their contribution and those deemed to fall short seriously questioned. Firm action should be taken by the leader on the team that failed to meet its deliverable’s.
Any team member or a supplier unable to work with hard stops should be taken off the project. Careful assessments must be done on any projects or objectives that missed their marks before tasking those resources to continue on the same direction.
The delivery demands and rapid pace of an agile team may not be the best fit for the teams or individuals that missed their marks. There is a lot of constant deadline pressure when working with hard or dead stops and a lot of people may not be comfortable. Finding out and maintaining what works and removing projects and team members that don’t work is cost-effective and a powerful way progressing a business fast, by learning from failures whilst eradicating them quickly.
Other things to consider are that the business sense of the projects and the team members may have been amazing at the start but the reality is that the mutual agreement, short term and long term objectives were not met. Extending the time to the same team working on the same objectives (or additional ones) will certainly lead to more costly failures.
Reducing the pain of failure is what the hard stop technique helps to accomplish. Spend more money on the winners and fail quicker at a lower cost in order to find the successful output faster.
Why do some projects succeed while others don’t deliver? Here are five pointers for project success
1) Have a set timeline for the project
A start date and end date must be set for every project. The key is to be realistic when setting the timeline. Too little time may lead to frustrations and unmet deadlines. Too much time budgeted for your projects and less will be done than your potential. Begin with asking questions to clarify what needs to be done and the steps towards achieving your goal before setting workable project deadlines.
2) Bring in the whole team
To make your project successful, you need people. Make everyone know their importance and what is required from them so that everyone is on the same page to be able to deliver. Explain the big picture to the team members to make them understand how the goal will be achieved and why each person’s input is critical. Ensure that in all your meetings with the members, the next steps to be taken and those responsible for them.
3) Hold meetings on a weekly basis
There has to be accountability in the team by regularly checking their progress. Some tools such as a project tracker come in handy to keep tabs with everyone. It keeps everyone informed on what is being done and the person doing it. If someone is being falling short, it makes it easy for someone else to fill in and offer to help out. It helps the members to go over what’s working and what’s not working during weekly meetings.
4) Main players should be available and accessible
To see a project get done, everyone playing a part must be made to be accessible. Start with the leader showing the way. Emails and phone calls should be picked up promptly and responded to without delays. It’s very easy to have something slip through the net or missed by everyone, the way to avoid such cases is to be accessible and respond quickly.
5) Encourage transparency
All the information whether good or bad must be shared to every member of your team to make sure that there is a sense of ownership and nobody feels sidelined. Spare no effort in making sure that all the members take ownership of the project.
The goal of agile project management is to deliver fully functional improvements of a product or process constantly – typically every month.
The process is best suited for software development and other projects where the requirements keep changing during the course of the project, e.g. startup businesses or rapidly growing businesses or in rapidly changing business environments.
Teams can alter their approach when needed and they are fully self-managed. This flexibility can help to ensure the final product meets the customer’s needs and also saves cost.
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Do you think hard stops work for a business and have you used them? What other ways can you use agile methods in a startup?