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Innovation Startups Modeling Agile Culture

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Key Takeaways

  • Treat Machine Learning as a new member in the software team.
  • The data is not the real value, the business intelligence you are capable to create with it is the real value.
  • Software development processes can be converted into efficient business processes.
  • Fully full-stack Project teams can save you money.
  • The importance of integrating agile values in a company culture from the very beginning.

The tech-team definition

The power of data is well known these days. We are all listening every day to news about issues like Big Data but, is data worthy of the conversation? Is data changing the way we manage companies?

The most important thing to realize is that the service we provide, the product we sell, and the data we manage are only the processes by which we reach the company and market objectives. However, many companies proceed without hiring talented human resources or even without a team.

And this is not a minor issue. The huge amount of global competitors that exist and the innovation race in the technological sector oblige us to lead or be part of a very special team.

What is needed is a synchronized, focused, and most importantly, an efficient team capable of adapting its work, its workflow, and its objectives as fast (or faster) than the changing market nowadays.

This is why the objectives a startup has to meet have to be very clear, well defined, and ready to change. Does this mean that only highly qualified people can be good choices for a startup team? Of course not.

The most important criterion for a great team does not even have to be human.

Figure 1: The importance of the team

The human team member is executing fewer and fewer tasks. It is increasingly focused on managing, coordinating, and finding the proper ways to reach objectives. Now, there are new “team members” capable of executing tasks with a higher degree of performance than humans.

These are technological team members that function like Machine Learning. A good Machine Learning algorithm, working in the data study and observation of the startup services and processes, is the perfect partner to create incredible value for the customers and the internal organization.

This partnership can be a tremendous boost to the startup performance, learning how to automate processes and how to use every single information flow to create added value and generate new revenue income.

Remember, Machine Learning is not only a useful tool—it’s a new team member with no salary and ready to operate 24/7 in a startup.

The low value of the data itself

So far, we have considered the concept of a data-driven startup. It should also be noted that the data itself means nothing to a company. So, what is the real purpose of analyzing huge amounts of data? It is to create valuable information, intelligence, Business Intelligence, that can efficiently connect a company with the market and its customers.

This is a key point—every innovation startup knows the importance of collecting the right data to convert it into intelligence. The value of the Business Intelligence a startup provides in huge markets like the buildtech sector is the value of the service it provides.

We all know what Business Intelligence is, but it is not easy to provide an example. So, here’s an example of how a data-driven startup focuses its business evolution on the intelligence it can generate.

“Building Intelligence” is a fake company name in this example of a real startup in the buildtech sector. The vision of Building Intelligence is to avoid higher costs and overtime in construction projects due to failures.

Nowadays, this company works over a SaaS, taking photos of construction sites, creating 3D models, and comparing them with the architectural plans. It collects data from the images and it creates information by comparing plans, providing early error detection with its technical algorithms, and controlling progress.

However, they are not accomplishing their vision right now. But, as they are a data-driven company, they are in their first step toward doing so.

The next step is to collect data, not only when a construction company has to inspect the area, but constantly, in real-time, by creating digital twins.

So, the third step of this startup evolution is to create an AI system to learn about the data collected and information generated from their first step, and the real-time behavior of the construction areas collected from their second step.

After this last step, they will be able to create accurate failure predictions for their customers. They will then, respecting an AGILE startup process, accomplish their vision, using AI and Machine Learning as two new and very important team members.

A whole team integration to reach efficiency

In this article, it is clear what issues a data-driven company should consider to best accomplish its objectives. We have seen how data and information technology should be integrated as team members in the organization. But, this question is the most important one to ask. What does a team look like for startups of this generation? Can we talk about only one startup team? 

According to our vision, we can say that a startup team is a group of resources with knowledge, capacity, and readiness to work together to reach some clear and related objectives. It can be comprised of humans or other technological resources. It can work together physically or connected in other ways.

A startup in every company has to achieve a lot of different company objectives, annual objectives, and even monthly objectives. So, with this team definition, we can conclude that a company can work with many different teams at one time. Also, the number of teams inside a company can be very different between different companies. It can even be very different inside the same company at different moments.

A startup doesn’t need a prefixed number of teams as it starts to talk about bringing to the company AGILE values like transparency, flexibility, and scalability. It doesn’t need a team in each area of the organization.

There can be many teams in one unique area, (for example, Product Development), or teams that involve more than one area, (for example, a marketing team related to Sales and Product Development).

A startup is a company, usually with limited resources, which has to be very efficient to reach its goals. A good way to define the number of resources/teams it needs to have a good outcome can be the following:

  • Think about your final startup objectives.
  • Define annual objectives to reach in the next 3 years.
  • Define the areas your startup needs to develop to accomplish your actual annual objectives.
  • Define the 5 most important actions each area should work on to accomplish the goals.
  • Relate each actual company resource to the actions defined, respecting the ideal working conditions in your startup environment and using their best skills.
  • Define any new resources you will need to finish these actions.

It is a good and needed practice to relate metrics with every startup objective so the progress of its accomplishment is well defined.

Figure 2: Advised metrics

As you can see, you have taken advantage of the resources you have in the most efficient way. Now is the perfect moment to think about the kind of team members you want on each team.

The magic concept here is the “Fully Fullstack Team.” To work with your teams as independent individuals in an efficient way, they should have every resource they need available with the periodicity it will be used and, if it is not always available, with emergency availability.

Teams can be made independent if they have resources in these five areas:

  • Market vision
  • Product experience
  • Product technology
  • Business development
  • Legal vision

Making this a reality means that every team in an organization can work properly through its objectives. This independence will create a system in which communication inefficiencies, delays, scope, quality, time, or misunderstood cost requirements will be drastically diminished.

There is only one important thing that can make it impossible for this structure to work—forgetting to integrate between the startup teams.

According to a Prisma Consultory study, inefficient internal communications and the failure situations it provokes has a cost of over 15% of the annual company profits. Looking for efficiency and good management processes to avoid and to reduce this statistic is an entrepreneur’s duty.

To respect AGILE and cultural values in today’s startups, every team has to be well connected. These connections have to be defined through flexible, scalable, and very open communication channels.

To make this structure work, every team and every team member has to have a direct connection, following the right communication patterns, to their counterparts in other company teams. We can’t view each team as a different group but as independent groups of a unique vision.

It should be proposed to the company members a well-known and transparent communication process, generical to every employee status. No one is different from each other in an AGILE startup. Every member has its importance, responsibility, and function.

A project-driven company

Now that we know our company is providing a useful service, (according to a data-driven philosophy to create the highest value it can), and what makes a team and how it should be managed, there is one last question remaining: Is a data-driven philosophy enough to accomplish the vision, respecting the company values?

The answer is simple: No. 

Since it could have multiple teams, a startup can develop its product, service, and external activities in many ways. By this time the correct choice is the data-driven philosophy. But, this external philosophy or the company values are not enough to define the internal company processes.

To sustain the company values, structure, and objectives an internal working philosophy has to be defined. The best concept here is the project-driven company. 

The project-driven philosophy is to consider everything the startup teams are working with as a project. So, every action taken internally is a project to accomplish or to help accomplish (with other company projects) the startup objectives.

It is a common mistake to focus on startup projects only in the product development phase. This philosophy considers everything in a project—for example, the summer marketing campaign launch, hiring a new tech member, and the new product feature upgrade. 

We have defined this startup culture to reach this single moment. Everything is ready to make it possible for the company to work in a project-driven way. And, without actually saying it, we have already explained how it will work.

When we analyze how to properly define the company’s objectives and goals, we talk about different actions that must be taken to accomplish monthly objectives. These objectives help to accomplish the startup annual objectives, and the annual objectives help to accomplish the final company goals. These actions are the projects the company has to develop to reach its monthly, annual, and final objectives.

There are many ways to create a project-driven company. Following this article, every project should be proposed for any startup member. This proposal should be studied by the management and financial team. Its approval makes the project viable and it is sent to the PMO.

The PMO is a transversal company area that provides, controls, and maintains resources and results to every project in the startup. It is the area that will create the proper team to develop the project.

How are these teams composed? As we have already discussed,  with our team’s structures and processes the startup is ready to work internally in a project-driven way and following the intelligence of a data-driv en development philosophy.

Does having a well-defined company with processes, structure, and objectives make a startup a startup? Is it not an old-fashioned company?

Of course not, because everything that has been established for the company has respected the main AGILE values: Efficiency, Flexibility, Scalability, and Transparency.

Even so, what is the master concept of this company development? Is it Agility? The master concept behind creating a startup is always Innovation.

Innovation as a culture, even in bad times

Companies should think very carefully about innovation in a startup environment. Innovation is not about creating the most high-tech product and to sell it in your company. Several startups have become unicorns without having any patent or creating difficult engineering processes. 

To innovate in a company is to re-think the way something is done and to adapt it to be more efficient, beneficial, sustainable, and scalable. Increasingly, every company is working for the society and these values, which match with the AGILE values that have been defined in the article, are ruling company success. 

Innovation can be developed through many different concepts: Product development, internal processes design, or team management.

There is a well-known assumption that innovation requires a lot of financial investment and this is not really true.

To innovate or not to innovate—this is not the task that makes a company different from its competitor. Every company has to innovate to remain competitive. The tough decision is to choose the right timing and type of innovation that a company needs in each moment. 

Every innovation is developed by the company team, so, a good first step would be to promote the internal approval of the team.

However, there might be another step previous to the implantation of disruptive innovation in a company. It is very advisable to start with the people management or leadership. This is how a company culture can be implanted in their own teams before bigger steps are taken. Although innovation in team management could represent, if badly done, a critical situation, it can be a cheaper way to innovate and to promote company branding without changing products or identity.

In crisis days, like those we are in now, a startup should be opening commercial opportunities to differentiate itself from its competitors by finding opportunities in the crisis threats. However, it should stay focused on providing the services and products it provided before. It is not a good time for external innovation.

Internal innovation is a great choice to create value internally and externally in difficult moments.

According to an “El Economista” study, 92% of Spanish companies are improving digitization and management style in 2020 after the COVID-19 situation was known.

When a company does not have the right amount of money or the right marketing situation to grow, branding and identity is the best commercial partner.

Let’s look at an example of this process developed by the Spanish startup CHECKTOBUILD. They have decided to face the COVID-19 situation with internal innovation in their company management processes. Specifically, they have identified the concept of Leadership as the most important one in the internal and external branding in crisis time and as a result, they have developed the following management process: PAIR LEADERSHIP

Pair Leadership is a management methodology that replicates the operative tasks of the “Pair programming” software development strategy (in the XP framework) in the management area. Every area of the Company will be led by two people. When making decisions and taking on management responsibilities, the responsible human resource can take advice from an equal and objective observer for every decision.

These two roles in every department will be switched between the two people for every project. It will be their own decision, knowing their motivation for the project. An innovation like this creates value around the concept of Leadership, the last vital issue in an AGILE culture. Every new hire in a company area means that an experienced employee will be the leader of the new one in terms of Pair Leadership.

Responsibility is spread over many roles in the company, making each team member fundamental to running the company properly. And, the most important thing here, is that each team member knows its responsibility. 

The concept of Mob Responsibility is becoming fundamental to the success of a startup and it is so easy to implement.

AGILE as a culture, not only as a methodology

As we now see, to be an innovative tech startup is not only to sell something new to the market and to manage its processes—it is to improve the value of your market, hugging technology as a partner and not only as a tool; to know that the company culture is as important as the service it provides; to be AGILE, dynamic, ready to change…and to create a strong identity through current AGILE values. 

People are not resources anymore, people are the key to company success.

About the Author

Alejandro Ruiz is a young and creative Spanish entrepreneur. When he was 10 people asked him: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He always said: “To run my own company, like my father”. He was a very small constructor. Now, he is a software engineer, novelist and IT Project Manager, running his own buildtech startup: CHECKTOBUILD -  improves the construction digitization with an autonomous inspection service.

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