This is the third post of my Project Management series Tech Startup Projects: What’s different, what works, what doesn’t. If you have not read the previous post please do so. It sets the tone for the text you will read in this post. The previous post is titled What to consider among project management tools for startups
So far, I have skimmed through two of the most popular Agile frameworks for tech startups to manage their projects. We have implemented both Scrum and Kanban, crucially, as a hybrid: ‘Scrumban’. When used apart a ‘pure’ Agile or ‘pure’ Kanban framework fails, and here’s why:
Scrum is very meticulous. It necessitates many meetings, planning ahead, planning sessions, Sprint review sessions, and hard details that the Product Owner (often for us at Cliffex, the busy entrepreneur building the tech startup) is not one hundred percent sure about at any given time. Moreover, it is totally unrealistic to expect that no changes and new urgent requirements will come up in less than say, a 2-week Sprint cycle. We hear about a new requirement or change to an existing one from the Product Owner a couple of times every week!
Scrum needs adherence. That’s why there are folks like ‘Scrum Masters’, whose job is to make sure everyone adheres to it! Scrum often results in 15-minute Standup Meetings to share impediments that you think you will face. They are positive at first, but over time, they become overwhelming at startup speed. With the velocity of work being done, and the kind of problems being solved, no one has the foresight or the time to think about the problems they will face in these environments. Things are more ‘here and now’ in this sense.
Remote working puts another challenge into the mix. It is unrealistic to expect remote designers and developers to attend Standup Meetings, planning sessions, retrospectives, Sprint demos and be proactive in them on an everyday basis. In environments where time is the most scarce resource, finding the time and maintaining mental presence in such frequent meetings is a luxury. Therefore something has to change.
For managing Scrum, many Project Managers use tools like Atlassian Jira. While Jira is an excellent tool for tech teams, in our experience, it is not a tool appreciated by commercially-oriented Product Owners or founders or other entrepreneurs building the startup. Jira is a feature-rich tool and one of the down sides of being feature rich is having a challenging interface.
Such tools will come easily to a tech Project Manager but Product Owners and entrepreneurs are often confused. This results in founders not using Jira at all – and becoming detached from the detail of what’s going on in design and development.
In real world situations, among other things, Product Owners and entrepreneurs are busy gathering, analysing and implementing user feedback at each crucial stage of mobile or Web app design and development. Agile advocates constant product evolution and continual development based on the feedback given by customers and/or sales teams. Kanban requires constant and rigorous upkeep and this is the main problem with it. This usually leads to situations where the team expects to pick urgent items from the top of the Kanban Board, but is expected to do things that aren’t on the Board at all!
Extending on the same problem discussed above, using Kanban Boards become too cluttered once you have had a couple of Sprints on them. Moreover, you will definitely find yourself in turbulent waters if you created anything with more than five columns, going left to right. Agile Boards are usually pretty open. That means anyone in the team can create Tasks and put Stories on the Board. This is also a big issue with Agile Boards, because things really become hard to track.
With all the benefits that Scrum and Kanban have to offer, we always thought of ways we could use the best parts of each – as a hybrid method or framework – and leave out the rest. Following a customised hybrid approach easily allows Cliffex to mitigate our customer’s pain points and promote the benefits. At Cliffex we (and others) have called this approach Scrumban.