Sunday, 23 October 2016

Small start-ups

Ana had been laid off from a software-development company. After some time thinking about it, she managed to convince David and Alberto to join her in a project they had been discussing since college: founding their own company to develop software.
They were lucky that their first client soon appeared. It was a dairy-distribution company that had decided to give them a chance. The Head of IT in their area knew them from their previous jobs, had good references about them, and thought that it would be a wise idea to increase their vendor database by including a young local company. He would give them a small, non-vital project. If it worked well, many more would follow.
Ana, David, and Alberto did not consider it a small project at all. They had no experience managing projects of that size on their own, and were afraid they would “choke” on it. They had offered a very low price to build a stock-control tool, so they had to be very competitive if they were to make money with the budget they had.
There was also another added risk. The international consulting company that normally developed software for the client would be a hard opponent to beat. If the project went wrong or was late, the stock-control tool would end up being integrated as one more module in the ERP that the consulting company had already deployed for their client.
Ana and her partners decided to follow an Agile methodology like Scrum to try and reach the level of efficiency that would help them succeed in their first project. They knew that if they spent too long analysing possible features and then spent months and months implementing them, the project could be cancelled as the client would not be able to see short-term results. Their main target was to get something into production as soon as possible: something useful for the client, even if it didn’t have all the requested features.
With this idea in mind, they started to develop their software. Every 2 weeks they showed the head of IT and the warehouse managers what has been accomplished during the previous fortnight. It looked good, but the company hadn’t started to use it yet, so they didn’t know if it would work or not.
Soon Ana suggested deploying a pilot version to production, one with a pilot version that would allow them only to add new stock, to record stock entries and withdrawals, and to draft a simple stock report. There wouldn’t be any complex functionality that would foresee demand or any SMS alerts when the stock for a given product was low.
When warehouse workers started using the new application, doubts arose, but also it became clearer what was useful and what wasn’t. After so many meetings, no one had thought that it would be useful to add a history of the product’s delivery so they would know how far in advance a product should be ordered before they ran out of stock. Or that the order screen should include current orders of the same product, to avoid duplications in ordering.
The next items on which to work were quite clear now. Also, they constantly received new application-improvement requests. They had seen that if they integrated the warehouse-management tool with the invoicing software of the delivery vehicles, they would avoid typing every product twice, once for each system, which would save them lots of time and errors. This was not foreseen from the beginning, but they reached an agreement. They wouldn’t develop the demand-prediction tool, which would be postponed until a later version was developed, but instead they would add this integration with the delivery agents’ mobile devices.
Cooperating with the client, accepting changes in requirements, and frequent deliveries of working software made the project a success for the dairy distributor. Now, at this local branch, they had a piece of software that did its job and also lightened the load on the warehouse workers and the delivery salespeople. They heard about the project in the Madrid headquarters, and were considering implementing it in other locations. Who knows, maybe this would mean a new project for Ana, Alberto, and David’s start-up.

You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).

Book on Scrum: Agile 101, Practical Project Management
Agile 101 - Practical Project Management
Translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt.

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