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Do Dedicated dev teams suit Start-Ups?

Outsourcing of the part of work was thought to be the preserve of large multinationals. But not any longer. In fact even fledgling Start-Ups can benefit from outsourcing aspects of their business to a third party and it may be even more appealing due to the specifics of the stage and size that the start-up is currently in.

How to decide?

Few businesses are not reluctant to let any work leave the office in the beginning, being like control freaks. But what is soon realized is that behaving that way is actually taking time and competitive advantage away from business. The reasons for outsourcing for IT companies are multiple: to avoid random hire when inquiries are urgent, to show up a high quality level when the skills required are too specific or non-core, to provide a fuller range of services to loyal and long-term customers, to be lean and cut off some expenditures that crowd the company’s balance sheet, to stay internally focused on core functions like business and strategy development and communication with customers.

Where to draw the line?

Definitely, the key areas of control should be retained in-house to protect brand image or intellectual property and to keep up-to-strategy and quickly adoptive communication with customers, but as for software development outsourcing, with careful planning and management and good communication not only non-core aspects but virtually any development aspect can be sourced out.

Where to look for talents?

At the end of the day, that’s people who really matter. Nowadays using LinkedIn or other portals specific to your industry can indeed help you find proper people. Have you recently paid attention how many companies are now emphasize their company profiles in social networks, not web-sites? Probably the best talents are hanging around somewhere here too. Also tap into your network for word of mouth, or when contacting a potential outsourcing vendor ask for references, from your geo-region as well.

What to pay attention to while selecting team members?

To assess technical expertise ask for previous work examples, usually described in CV, run an interview with candidates and test-drive them with some quick test tasks. Also it makes sense to have a short trial period, of a reasonable time and paid one still with a possibility of quick cutting off of team member(s) if you’re not happy with them. As for communication skills, it encompasses broader than just level of English; enthusiasm and desire to express and explain the point are of important matter as well.

How to start working with a Dedicated Dev Team?

Start out small and build up gradually according to a pre-agreed schedule. This is mutually beneficial: you will have some time to feel the team’s work speed and abilities and pivot with team size and composition accordingly; at the same time you will also see how your internal project manager manages to distribute tasks to a remote team, if in the full volume necessary and on time. Also organizing a video conf-call with the team members is an efficient team-building step, and it is good to have such one in the beginning as a kick-off meeting as well throughout the cooperation.

Is strong management by the customer a must-have?

In order to keep your project lean and effective, be in regular communication and manage progress closely so you set specific goals and expectations along with realistic deadlines and get regular updates from the team. Decide on a point person to manage the work if you don’t cope with this yourself. Also you should absolutely provide feedback, whatsoever positive or negative, to your team, including but not limited to their work results and updates to the project/product strategy.

If an inquiry doesn’t look like to fit a standard dedicated development team (DDT) concept?

Not so long ago DDT model was considered a long-term, continuous, stiff cooperation approach. Still we are no longer in the era of neither large system projects prevalence nor large companies domination. Today’s reality dictates new standards for cooperation approaches. And outsourcing is adapting to newly arising demand specifics as well.

For instance, your request for DDT set up may be for a mixed team in terms of techs; or for combination of a dedicated core team and floating resources on a project need basis; or for permanent key team and highly specialized expert on a timely basis to resolve highly specific issues; or one-project-purpose DDT when dealing under fixed-price approach for the project is inconvenient. Also DDT can be formed quickly, even within 1-2 weeks, and can be or start as small as 1-3 team members. All these cooperation possibilities may be highly interesting for Start-ups.

And what’s your point about the potential of dedicated teams outsourcing for Start-up companies?

Kind regards,
Helen Boyarchuk – Business Development Manager (LI page)
Helen.Boyarchuk@altabel.com | Skype ID: helen_boyarchuk
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Budgets continue to shrink, so IT departments have to do everything they can to save money. Many are looking at the all-too-obvious cuts and neglecting a helpful chunk of less obvious ways to pinch those pennies. I want to offer some, which I think can go a long way toward saving your department precious budget dollars (and quite possibly, your job). You can protect your budget and help safeguard your job by implementing these cost-cutting measures.

1. Drop Microsoft Office for Google Apps or LibreOffice
I know most businesses hold onto Microsoft Office as if their work-lives depended upon it. The truth is it doesn’t. Google Apps and LibreOffice have both evolved into business-class productivity suites that can easily replace the de facto standard, Microsoft Office. This move will especially help small businesses that don’t benefit from bulk-purchase prices from Microsoft. And since most users tap into only about 10 to 15 percent of the features and power of their office suite, why not save nearly one hundred percent of the cost of the proprietary solution? Besides, a tool like Google Apps makes collaboration between teams even easier.

2. Migrate your terminal server to a Linux box
The Microsoft Terminal Server is a powerful tool — and it comes with a powerful price tag. The more users you need, the more costly that option will be. Replace that box with a Linux machine and you can have the same kind of power at a small fraction of the cost. And adding more users won’t wind up costing you the entire budget. So long as your hardware can handle it, you can add as many users as you like — at no cost.

3. In-house your CRM/ERP/HRM solutions
If you go to SourceForge and search for CRM, ERP, or HRM, you’ll be astounded at the hits you get. Not only are these solutions plentiful, they are powerful. With the likes of Drupal, Joomla!, OrangeHRM, and countless other tools, you will have your business-to-customer-to-vendor-relationship in perfect harmony. And since these are mostly Web-based tools, you’ll be able to work that magic from anywhere that can reach the server housing the tool.

4. Migrate to networked or cloud-based storage
The benefits of this might not be immediately apparent. But migrating your users’ storage from their machines to a centralized location can help save your budget by reducing strain on the client machine (less writing to drives and more over the network). This will also help save costs because you can more easily back up all end-user data from a single location.

5. Move some desktops to Linux
This one will have the most people shaking their heads, but hear me out. There are always certain desktops in a company that have a limited usage. And because much of business has migrated to Web-based tools, a Linux box makes perfect sense. With those machines, you won’t have to worry about virus infections, corrupt registry entries, or users installing malware-infested applications. Some machines will need Windows (such as those that use proprietary software or software with no Linux port, like QuickBooks). And there will be users who refuse change. For those instances, simply stick with what works best. But for the machines and/or users that can make use of Linux, make the switch and you’ll save.

6. Keep good backups of everything
It’s inevitable: Hardware is going to break. That means every machine in your company, at some point, is going to give up the ghost. When that happens, so much time can be lost recovering data — be it user-level or company-level data. One of the most critical tasks you can have as an IT pro is making sure backups run and run consistently. With a solid backup plan, you will save quite a lot of money in the end, even if only in time.

7. Implement strict antivirus and anti-malware policies
A big issue with end user machines is the “accidental installation” of malware or the infection of viruses. One of the best ways to help yourself out is to use an antivirus solution (such as Symantec Endpoint Protection) that can be managed from a centralized location. Regardless of what you use, it is crucial to make sure that all antivirus and anti-malware software is up to date (both the application and the definitions). It might also behoove you to make sure that end users aren’t installing extra “features” for their browsers — such as coupon finders.

8. Encourage creative thinking (solutions for unique problems)
This is more for your IT staff. Encourage the use of creative thinking to solve issues with client computers and servers. Most every computer issue has multiple paths that can arrive at a solution. Sometimes the creative solution is the one that can help save money in the end. Not all administrators can think along these routes, so don’t press them if they aren’t capable. But encourage those who can think creatively and on their toes.

9. Document, document, document
You want to save time? Document your hardware, your network topology, and your software. Document your users, your users’ PCs, your backups — anything you can possibly think of that will help you save time and make transitions from one software/hardware/administrator to another as smooth as possible. This documentation will also go a long way toward helping you see how everything on your network is used and what can be used more efficiently.

10. Implement a help desk solution
Many smaller businesses don’t employ a help desk solution because they assume you can keep track of all the issues on your own. That is a big mistake. The ability to track progress on issues and to review previous issues (and how they were fixed) can really save you time and money. And enabling end users to submit tickets will help ensure that issues are better managed and resolved more quickly. Plenty of open source solutions are available for this. (My favorite is OS Ticket.)

Have you found some other strategies that have helped you reduce spending? Please, share your suggestions bellow.

Best Regards,
Kristina Kozlova
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

The real entrepreneur is usually viewed as “someone with a big vision, and a stubborn determination to charge straight ahead through any obstacle and make it happen”. Is that so in reality? The vision part looks fine, but stubbornness is of a specific kind. Mature and successful entrepreneurs know that due to the extreme uncertainty of a new product/service usually many corrections are required in the course of the project. The challenge “when to change your direction and when to persevere” is reiterated. Actually the start up runway is not money but how many pivots the start up can still make. Pivoting in the right direction as early as possible is what makes the product and project lean. Pivots come in many different flavors, each designed to test the viability of a different hypothesis about the product, customer, technology, business model and engine of growth. Here are the summary of top-10 pivots to take (by Eric Ries (c)):
– Zoom-in pivot: what previously was considered a single feature in a product becomes the whole product.

- Zoom-out pivot: sometimes a single feature is insufficient to support a customer set, and what was considered the whole product becomes a single feature of a much larger product.

- Customer segment pivot: the product attracts real customers, but not the ones originally supposed to. So repositioning and optimizing for a more appreciative segment are needed.

- Customer need pivot: the customer feedback indicates that the problem solved is not very important, or money isn’t available to buy. This requires repositioning, or a completely new product, to find a problem worth solving.

- Application-to-platform or vice versa pivot: many founders envision their solution as a platform for future products, but don’t have a single killer application yet. Most customers buy solutions, not platforms.

- Business architecture pivot: two major business architectures are: high margin, low volume (complex systems model), or low margin, high volume (volume operations model). Both can’t be operated at the same time.

- Value capture pivot: changes to the way a startup captures value (i.e. monetization or revenue model) can have far-reaching consequences for business, product, and marketing strategies. The “free” model doesn’t capture much value.

- Engine of growth pivot: the most popular primary growth engines are: the viral, sticky, and paid growth models. The right model picked can dramatically affect the speed and profitability of growth.

- Distribution channel pivot: these pivots usually require unique pricing, feature, and competitive positioning adjustments.

- Technology pivot: a way to achieve the same solution by using a completely different technology. This is most relevant if the new technology can provide superior price and/or performance to improve competitive posture.

Also, an interesting observation: “Ask most entrepreneurs who have decided to pivot and they will tell you that they wish they had made the decision sooner.” So the valuable guideline of thinking and acting for all the start-ups is to design a product with the smallest set of features to please a customer base, move it into the marketplace quickly, test and measure the reaction, detect the pivot spot and iterate on this basis.

What’s your interesting experience in making pivots? You are welcome to share your stories here.

Kind regards,
Helen Boyarchuk – Business Development Manager (LI page)
Helen.Boyarchuk@altabel.com | Skype ID: helen_boyarchuk
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Almost the first word coming to one’s mind in relation to “start up” notion is risk. The sad reality is that very few products are successful, despite of all the perseverance, hard work and creativity of their producers. At the same time, some start-ups’ stories sound like modern-time rags-to-riches stories. What’s the formula for success then?

Many say: “They have been in the right place at the right time”. In this way it sounds like a pure good luck or a ready-made excuse for those who haven’t succeeded. Mature entrepreneurs reject this line of thinking. They say: “ Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.” Here “process” doesn’t mean a blueprint to follow but thinking in the right way.

Wrong thinking produces wrong acting. Based on entrepreneurs experience stories let’s try to define these wrong beliefs and fears having place while releasing the first product version:

Belief # 1. Brilliant business plan. The first questions to answer before starting building the product are: what should we build and for whom? Usually a thorough business plan is created answering these questions but not limited. After weeks /months of implementation and ardent arguments about bugs and features the first version goes live and… Nothing happens – the fears were unfounded because nobody even tried it.
Lesson to be learned: The idea is only then brilliant when customers say it’s so: not a well-known domain guru or results of whiteboard exercises performed by the marketing dept. Resort to talking to customers as early as possible.

Belief # 2. Low quality sucks. Entrepreneurs care about reputation so much. This originates the fear of releasing a low quality product which would tarnish the reputation as an engineer: “People would think I didn’t know how to build a quality product.”
Lesson to be learned: Mistakes are almost inevitable, they are in the very nature of start ups as in a start-up who the customer is and what the customer might find valuable are often unknown. So the tip is: fail often but fail quietly. Build a minimum viable product and test it empirically on a small fraction of potential customers. Even if your first product sucks, at least not too many people will know about it.

Belief # 3. Hurry to become big. Entrepreneurs tend to think big – it seems if the product is complex and has heaps of features it will definitely win customers’ hearts. As the result, thousands of lines of the code, endless arguments about which bugs to fix and which to tolerate, which features to cut and which to cram in, for the first product version which may mean just waste for customers.
Lesson to be learned: Don’t be in a rush to get big, be in a rush to have a great product. When you launch development try to firstly figure out how “minimal viable product” for your customers should function and look like; what you need to build in order to test your product idea assumptions.

The thing is that the first version is the best time to make mistakes. Each version serves as a basis to learning and then making a vital pivot in order to adopt some part of the vision to reality. The whole process looks like “build-measure-learn” loop (Eric Ries (c)). Going throughout this cycle reputedly implies another threat:

Belief # 4. Preconception towards some “build-measure-learn” element. It means thinking of this or that element of the cycle to be more important. For engineers it’s learning to build things as efficiently as possible. Plenty of entrepreneurs obsess over data and metrics. The guts speak…
Lesson to be learned: None of these activities by itself is of paramount importance. The aim should be to minimize the total time through this loop as the core sense of Lean Startup method is to recognize asap that it’s time to pivot.

That’s pretty much it. Think big, start small, pivot fast, scale actively :)

Kind regards,
Helen Boyarchuk – Business Development Manager (LI page)
Helen.Boyarchuk@altabel.com | Skype ID: helen_boyarchuk
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

The value of a lean start-up approach is that you are not heavily investing upfront in unnecessary/unneeded expenses. Your budget/funds should be allocated toward developing a prototype/product to test against a small/large group and see whether or not your target audience love it or hate it. This will give you a more accurate idea of its potential value, cost to improve the product/market, and maybe a couple of example customers.

The Lean Startup has evolved into a movement that is having a significant impact on how companies are built, funded and scaled. As with any new idea, with popularity comes misinterpretation:

Tale 1: Lean means cheap. Lean startups try to spend as little money as possible
The reality is the Lean Startup method is not about cost, it is about speed. Lean startups waste less money, because they use a disciplined approach to testing new products and ideas. Lean, when used in the context of lean startup, refers to a process of building companies and products based on lean manufacturing principles, but applied to innovation. That process involves rapid hypothesis testing, learning about customers, and a disciplined approach to product development.

Tale 2: The Lean Startup methodology is only for Web 2.0, Internet and consumer software companies
Actually, the Lean Startup methodology applies to all companies that face uncertainty about what customers will want. This is true regardless of industry or even scale of company: many established companies depend on their ability to create disruptive innovation. Those general managers are entrepreneurs, too. And they can benefit from increased speed and discipline.

Tale 3: Lean Startups are bootstrapped startups
There’s nothing wrong with raising venture capital. Many lean startups are ambitious and are able to deploy large amounts of capital. What differentiates them is their disciplined approach to determining when to spend money: after the fundamental elements of the business model have been empirically validated. Because lean startups focus on validating their riskiest assumptions first, they sometimes charge money for their product from day one – but not always.

Tale 4: Lean Startups are very small companies
This focus on size also obscures another truth: that many entrepreneurs live inside of much larger organizations. The proper definition of a startup is: a human institution creating a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty. In other words, any organization striving to create disruptive innovation is a startup, whether they know it or not. Established companies have as much to gain from lean startup techniques as the mythical “two guys in a garage”.

Tale 5: Lean Startups replace vision with data or customer feedback
Lean startups are driven by a compelling vision, and they are rigorous about testing each element of this vision against reality. They use customer development, split-testing, and in-depth analytics as vehicles for learning about how to make their vision successful. Along the way, they pivot away from the elements of the vision that are delusional and double down on the elements that show promise.
The old model of entrepreneurship was dominated by an over-emphasis on the magical powers of startup founders. Usually, the stories we hear about successful startups describe a brilliant visionary, fighting valiantly against the odds to create a new reality. As employees gradually fall under his or her spell, they execute his or her master plan, which leads, in the end, to world domination.
Anyone who has spent time around real startup successes knows this story is usually wildly untrue. Founders benefit from historical revisionism and survivor’s bias: we rarely hear the stories of the thousands of visionaries who failed utterly.
The Lean Startup moves our industry past this mythological entrepreneurship story and towards a methodology that is more scientifically grounded and accessible.
People who are truly committed to a vision of changing the world in a significant way can’t afford the luxury of staying in that cozy, comfortable place of building in stealth mode without outside feedback. If you really believe your vision needs to become a reality, you owe it to yourself to test that vision with every tool available.

Best Regards,
Kristina Kozlova
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

For years, startups and their founders first built their products, and only then searched for their markets and prayed for the best. But if you want to build a successful business, then it is now the right time to learn about the Lean Startup approach.

The Lean Startup has evolved into a movement that is having a significant impact on how companies are built, funded and scaled. As with any new idea, with popularity come multiple interpretations.

I’d like to clarify this concept for myself and therefore decided to ask LI members about it. Below you may find the answers that I found most interesting and useful.

“We are exploring lean startup approach in my team for our business incubation project. So far this approach sounds very exciting and promising. In my opinion the biggest challenge we have at this point is finding customers to continuously validate our ideas regarding product functionality. But I think different teams will have different challenges. For example, one of the prerequisites of running lean startup is having appropriate “agile” development process in place. Many teams are not prepared to release new version of their product/application weekly or ever daily. I don’t think lean startup approach is about saving money. It applies very well to both funded and bootstrapped organizations. Also lean startup approach doesn’t mean that it will take longer to launch, I think it actually means the opposite. The idea here is to reduce waste, and don’t do things you are not confident you have to do.”
Andrew M.
Lead Engineer at PARC

“All startups are “lean” by their nature. The trick is keeping them lean.”
Darren S.
V.P. of Engineering

“I shall make a slight correction to Darren’s statement – all *successful* startups are lean by nature. You are always looking to maximize the chances of success while minimizing resources at risk; to find a way of delivering what enough customers would find valuable, in a timescale that gives fair return on investment. Using Lean approaches and thinking does two things for you; it increases the chances of success, and it can help you to decide to fail sooner than you might otherwise have done. Andrew’s comments about ‘agile’ are pertinent if your product is software; on the other hand I don’t like putting as much emphasis on reducing waste as he does. The three goals in order of priority are 1/ deliver value; 2/ enable flow; and only then, 3/ reduce waste….As the agile folk say, “try the simplest thing that could possibly work”. Even though sometimes it doesn’t work, it’s good enough often enough to be a winning strategy.”
Paul O.
Capgemini

“Most all start-ups are lean. Fat ones tend to spend money and never get around to starting up.
Staying lean is a great goal – as long as you don’t strangle the company’s growth by focusing on leanness over more important business issues.”
Sigmund F.
CTO at Catalina Payment Systems

“Most “successful” startups start and remain lean (not only in software development terms), at least until they reach the growth phase. There is a lot of debate going on about startup funding vs efficiency. I have experienced both worlds of funded and bootstrapped and unless the management team is very experienced and already had a business failure because of bad management of the “fat”, it is much more efficient to start lean and stay lean until you´ve proven a profitable and scalable business model. Once you need to accelerate it becomes a different story.”
Christophe P.

“The lean startup approach is like any other approach to business management in that it makes sense in some instances but not in others. In this case the lean approach to a startup only works if your innovation will support rapid deployments and subsequent gathering of customer feedback. Really good examples of success using this model are in smart phone apps and casual games. Using existing popular distribution sources (i.e.: app stores and game portals) producers can quickly distribute and collect feedback from a large existing and often knowledgeable customer base. New offerings or updates can be just as quickly launched and the older ones removed.
Now contrast this company with one marketing new embedded chip software for RFID tags. The embedded software company cannot be as reactive as it must deal with the costs of prototype manufacturing, distribution, and customer adoption in trials. The lean startup approach may not be the best strategy for them.”
Curtis S.

“Lean, as in the American add-an-expert equivalent of the Toyota Production System (TPS), doesn’t carry that much for extra features into a startup. A startup should be entrepreneurial (entre) and the entre pattern matches a good agile development pattern. A good entre/agile team is mostly relatively collegial for good information sharing, not so much the refining inject-the-expert that lean follows. TPS gets a million new ideas a year from the factory floor up, and that is a good entre success pattern. ‘Lean’ as a term sells better than TPS or agile. I much prefer to suggest that a good agile/entre startup creates almost accidental design thinking & doing cycle that spirals towards success.”
Vic W.
Growth spurts for People Teams Orgs. Agile Entrepreneur

“Would like to add that being lean should not be your key driver in a start up, it’s far more important to be agile/flexible and responsive as you change your product/service to mesh with emerging and probably changing product design & market needs. This is called “making it up as we go along”, and is very typical of many startups, and there is nothing wrong with this in a startup, actually it’s quite desirable. Shouldn’t your key drivers be market and customer needs?
No point being lean if you are making the wrong thing!
Edward B.

What’s your point of view on this topic?

Best Regards,
Kristina Kozlova
http://www.altabel.com

No surprise that ideas change with the time. The same is happening to Lean Startup concept in IT.

In the times of first Agile Manifesto we have valued:

-         Individuals and interactions OVER processes and tools,

-          Working software OVER comprehensive documentation,

-          Customer collaboration OVER contract negotiation,

-          Responding to change OVER following a plan.

Now that’s not enough. Look, this is a new concept for operating in today’s environment:

-          Team vision and discipline OVER individuals and interactions,

-          Validated learning OVER working software,

-          Customer discovery OVER customer collaboration,

-          Initiating change OVER responding to change.

Do you already adhere to these new principles?

Will be interesting to hear your experience here.

Helen Boyarchuk
Altabel Group – professional software development


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