A few years ago, a development manager where I worked asked me to sit down for a chat. He had been running a very successful application development team that had done a great job adopting an agile development process. The cross-functional team had user experience designers from my staff, front- and back-end developers, business analysts, QA testers. They were a good unit, committed to collaboration and continuous improvement, one of the best teams in the company.
So I was surprised to hear how frustrated he was. “This isn’t going to work,” he told me, “unless we change the way executive management works around here. “They keep asking for feature X by date Y. That’s not how we’re doing our planning, not how we’re running our project. We need to figure out a way to get THEM to be agile!”
It was kind of an eye-opener for me. Up ’til that conversation, I’d been invested in simply getting designers and developers to play nicely with one another. Now it became clear we needed to work on the third leg of the stool.
This is why I’m excited by the Lean Startup movement–because it’s a movement of entrepreneurs who are practicing a new kind of management, one compatible with agile practices and design thinking. As I’ve written before, the third leg of the stool is here.
This past Thursday, I was lucky to snag a ticket to hear Eric Reis speak at the Lean Startup Meetup here in NYC. Eric talked about some of the principles of Lean Startup. Two in particular seemed to offer a way out of the bind we faced at my last firm:
Entrepreneurship is management
A startup is an institution, not just a product, so it requires management, a new kind of management specifically geared to its context.
To improve entrepreneurial outcomes, and to hold entrepreneurs accountable, we need to focus on the boring stuff: how to measure progress, how to setup milestones, how to prioritize work. This requires a new kind of accounting, specific to startups.
I think back to my conversation with that dev manager, and wonder what we could have done back then with these ideas? Perhaps it was already too late to shift the way management was done at my last firm. But I’m looking forward to putting these ideas into practice at my next one.