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I've had the opportunity to work at quite a few start-ups. One thing I've found to be common in them is adhoc way of doing things and ignorance towards processes, best practices and known project management techniques. When I suggest changes to the employers they come up with the answer that all these processes look good in books and reality is different OR they are only relevant in Google, Microsoft and Yahoo like companies.

For example in the middle of the sprint (in Scrum) a product owner would come and say. Hey I've changed my mind about so and so feature so lets do the changes. Don't tell me about man hours, estimates and sprints. Just finish this tonight.

It seems start-ups are exempted from following the standards and best way for them is to just go with the flow and make decisions based on gut feelings. Is that true? What is the justification?

  • Great question, I was in the exact same situation in a previous life! – Kennethvr Sep 16 '11 at 12:19
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Small start-up companies have to be very agile and fast. Since these companies are small, meetings can be conducted in the hallway and decisions do not get documented and communicated out of those meetings. The rationale is - all stakeholders are there in the hallway! It's effective for them. This kind of approach (we can even call it culture) is effective enough for those companies. Up to a point the company starts growing. During the growth process people continue using their small-company habits and processes. At some point they realize it doesn't work any more. Things start to fall between the cracks, there is no healthy communication between people. Project status, including schedules, decisions, architecture, design, issues, and more is vague and not visible to all.

So, to your question - yes, you can find this phenomena of making a lot of exceptions to common practice processes in small start-up companies.

In my opinion, a company can be agile and fast even if it follows some basic processes. Processes are not just for the enterprise. A company needs to make sure the processes it follows allows it to move fast enough and be agile enough. The right tools need to be selected for the right job.

The best way I can think of to adjust the processes of a company is to conduct retrospective sessions in a high enough frequency. In these sessions people should bring up concerns and issues and the processes should be adjusted to deal with the issues. This way the processes can be gradually adjust to the needs of the company, to the complexity of its workflow and to the right amount of agility it needs to have.

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The short answer to your question is: processes and procedures should be adjusted to environment you work in. Definitely start-ups are more flexible and way more often continuously changing than big enterprises. But then it's not about being start-up or not, but about the way people work.

If in your situation people change their mind often and priorities are changed in the middle of iteration maybe you should either adjust iteration length or change the process to iterationless, e.g. Kanban. It a start-up I'd look for lightest possible rules which help to make the job done and yet limit flexibility in the least possible way. I'm not sure Scrum would fit this definition perfectly.

Processes and procedures are for you and not the other way around.

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Maybe it's not ignorance but strategy.

Too much rules, procedures & processes prevent your people to practice practical wisdom.

The main advantage of startups comparing to big companies is their agility.

Therefore I highly encourage you to set common objectives, vision and strategy, and let your people help you achieve them.

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No! In simple terms: its for any one who wants a streamlined chaos less life. But as the numbers(people) drastically increase, its better we stick with efficient process and procedures else its gonna get messy!

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Have a look at some of the articles on Kaizen

I work for a small company and as we've grown I have found adding a little process to recurring tasks invaluable. It doesn't have to be too complex, checklists and template are an easy first step. If you find they are valuable you can then expand with supporting documentation.

Case study:
When I implemented Change Management in the past I got an immediate reduction in MTTC and revenue on paid work went up. It was a 2 page document.

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A startup company is much like a multi-variable search. It's a search for a viable product, a viable business model, a viable company culture, a viable sales model, a viable team, a viable set of processes.... And all of this is being done at break-neck speed, in a rush against time and money.

As with all other things, a startup is likely to begin from scratch when it comes to process work. That is a good thing - it's a part of a strategy to remain mobile and flexible, as Pierre has said.

A process is a proven, repeatable set of steps, which bring about a reliable, predictable result - when the company is just starting, there are few places where they belong. There isn't much that's still reliably repeatable. And it's going to take some time before you can be certain that a given set of repeatable processes is the correct one, or incorrect one, or required but not discovered yet.

So yes, you'll see lots of best practices ignored/not practiced at startups, as a trade-off for flexibility and the ability to discover. That client running in and requiring something be finished tonight is not normally appropriate when you're fairly certain your SCRUM process works in this industry, and can produce good results for most people. But maybe a SCRUM process is not appropriate. Or maybe the tradeoff between burning out developers tonight and losing your only customer isn't something you can afford - maybe this is a Hail-Mary moment.

That said, it's generally accepted in startup culture that being enthusiastic about doing urgent work on the spot, and avoiding experimenting with processes, are both signs of a properly working startup. The savvy entrepreneur and early company builder, will have his wits about him and know when the tradeoffs are worth it, and when they're not. Either that, or he will fail, and learn in the process.

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I don't see the comments option under the question, so I am writing my comment as a reply here.

It would be interesting to study small companies which tried to introduce processes and procedures from the very beginning. I personally don't know of any such examples so I am curious to learn.

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There is no denying that startups must be ready to pivot on the spot in order to stay afloat as industries and economies continuously change. Your gut intuition is often a great resource as well. However, when the future success of your company is riding on your actions, going with the flow may not be a risk worth taking. The fast-paced environment of the startup world does not mean all standards should be thrown out the window. In fact, by implementing processes you ensure that your startup will remain on track. Phillip Salter from Forbes notes that, "Ambitious entrepreneurs need to create realistic growth targets and develop plans and concrete actions of how growth will be achieved."

With business processes already in place, you'll have a much easier time scaling your company. So when your startup goes viral, you will be ready to conquer your success in an organized manner, free of chaos.

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