The Agile Development and Lean Startup Waltz

The Beat

The Lean Startup and its author Eric Ries are in the entrepreneurial spotlight— going lean and mean is what every dreaming-of-Facebook-like-runaway-success start-up founder and promoter is focusing on. So what has changed with the lean start-up?

The book encourages rapid experiments with small teams, with deployment of minimum viable products (MVP). Ries says, “Lean isn’t simply about spending less money or about failing fast or cheap. It is about putting a process, a methodology around the development of a product.”

First Notes

“A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

Lead and follow

The Lean Startup supports retaining vision and pivoting strategy, tailored to an uncertain, rapidly changing climate. It discusses creating a build-measure-learn feedback loop for each development cycle (each cycle is a short iteration), and validated learning at the conclusion of each. The aim is to build an MVP, which helps to evaluate conceptual business vision. To reduce waste, a constant strategy assessment is implemented. A continuous interaction with the customer engenders feedback, applied for continuous learning and improvement.

Favorite partner/ Handhold

The Lean startup tenets behoove an agile development environment. Both have common origins— both are derived from the concept of lean manufacturing. The core principle resonates in “Responding to change over following a plan” from theAgile manifesto. The emphasis is on keeping in sync with the dynamic environment in frequent short iterations through the Build, Measure, Learn loop, minimizing wastage of code and features, and cutting down on spending and lessening risk of failure.

The Lean startup approach mirrors Agile development concepts, as being recast into business and operations tactics. This works especially well in low-cost, low-burn inceptive entities.

The representation below depicts how Agile development and the Lean Startup work complementarily in a dynamic environment.

        Agile Development extended to the Lean Startup

From the Sprint backlog, selected prioritized functionality features are built and tested within an Agile sprint.  The process of selection of features and prioritization of tasks ensures important and “must have” features get developed first and some unnecessary “nice to haves” get left out in the interest of lowering the overall cost and time to market. To keep with continuously changing market each unit of effort is kept short; the continuity of testing, integration and deployment ensures that no code that is written remains untested, un-integrated or un-deployed. Show and tell at the end of the iteration results in review of old requirements and generation of new ones.

The “retrospective” meetings facilitate applying lessons learned to the next iteration, which, of course, commences with Sprint backlog composed of prioritized requirements.

The lean startup model is an extension of this Agile development. Continuous integration is followed by continuous deployment and market validation. Going live brings in real market feedback and lessons therein, which form the basis for the release backlog. The risky features that are based on “Leap of Faith” assumptions are prioritized assumptions to go into the Sprint backlog.

Agile, with its quick iterations and conclusive learning is the bedrock for the lean startup and the pivot for any enterprise aiming to go “low-cost, low-burn”. Agile development and Lean methodology together conjunct to complete the development and delivery cycle. The allied principles of Agile and lean startup form a powerful, compelling collaboration that eventually delivers the clichéd “winning formula”.

Agile is the requisite way to go— far from being the neglected step-daughter, it is now the belle of the successful startup ball.


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