About The Lean Startup, Agile Project Management, and how approaches to business can affect people

Contortionist, posed in studio, circ 1880 
(source: George Eastman House)
Contortionist, posed in studio, circ 1880  (source: George Eastman House)

Contortionist, posed in studio, circ 1880
(source: George Eastman House)

Eight years ago I took an e-learning Project Management course which consisted of close to fifty separate modules. It was available to me via SkillSoft – a company that provides business training to many corporates around the world.
I was grateful to be able to take the course at zero cost to me at the time, as part of the perks of working for my old employer. And I learnt a lot about Project Management from it. Understanding the framework helped me manage my work as well as my life ever since.

Fast forward eight years, and I’m reading and learning about “lean” and “agile”, and it’s exciting and very interesting to me, because just as I know the benefits of managing projects in traditional ways first hand, so I have noted the weaknesses of these approaches from time to time. Especially in relation to complex commercial website development projects.
I have seen publishers and other product owners change their minds about what they wanted so many times half way through project implementations – and it’s not their fault. If we work on gathering requirements in January, and the website isn’t launched until the following January, well no wonder things have changed! everything changes all the time: the market changes, people change, the Internet changes, new gadgets take over, and all this change catches on faster and faster with every month that goes by. It’s a little scary for me, although I work in this environment day in day out – it must seem like an impossible chase for many businesses.

But the truth is that it doesn’t need to be so hard if one employs the best possible strategy for each project. If it’s a small website with some informative pages and provision of means of contact – by all means get everything planned and implemented at once. But if you are trying to engage with customers on several levels by publishing rich content, search and filters, community functionality, e-commerce, subscriptions etc. – complex functionality that requires more thought – by all means think big… but start small. Test a couple of basic elements on customers, release more functionality one step at a time, get feedback continuously, and allow yourself the freedom to refine your product as you go, make it OK to change your mind about what’s important based on how your customers behave, based on real results.

This approach is making me feel hopeful. My small business and the non-profit startups I’m helping out can really put this to the test. Instead of pressurising ourselves immensely with trying to figure out how to get to accomplish our huge visions from where we’re standing right now (which is at the starting point in front of a massive big hill), we can plan a small step in an upward direction and go get it, right now! This seems more achievable, it is achievable.

So I’m reading books (The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is brilliant), and getting educated in Agile project management (try this free Scrum e-learning course for a taster). Now that I’m no longer employed by a big corporate, furthering my professional education comes at a cost to me: £1,000 for two days – quite a sum for a one-woman band… but I’m going to bite the bullet and enjoy it even more.

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