Lean & Startup Patterns – Interview with Sam McAfee

(Sam McAfee is the Chief Technology Officer of POPVOX and author of Startup Patterns.  I reached out to chat about his approach on Lean, startups and teamwork. You can find him on Twitter or Linkedin.)

Q: What are the differences between Agile Software Development and Lean Software Development?

A: At the highest level, the difference between Agile and Lean software development is mainly one of focus. They are framed around different overall goals; in Agile’s case, it’s the quality of the software that is output by the engineering team, and in Lean’s case, it’s the value delivered to the customer by the entire organization. Of course, these focuses are complementary in the context of running a software business, but their specific implementations can sometimes leave them at odds with one another unless you’re very conscious of both in how you set up your production process.

Hi.P.P.O - Highest Paid Person 's Opinion

In Defense of the Hi.P.P.O

The Hippo is a much maligned creature. Forever scorned by data scientists and UX professionals.

Hi.P.P.O stands for the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. It's a time honored way of making decisions which goes back centuries.

If a decision has to be made, the boss' opinion wins. After all, there must be some reason they get paid more!

If we're deciding between a red button and a blue button for our Call-To-Action, don't test, just ask Hi.P.P.O! There's even a SaaS web site dedicated to asking Hi.P.P.Os.

Personally, I don't mind the Hi.P.P.O. Sometimes I have to bow before the Hi.P.P.O. Sometimes am the Hi.P.P.O.

What I truly fear is the Z.E.B.R.A (More on that below.)

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Silicon Valley Startup Unicorn

The Complete Team

Building a Complete Team is not easy. Talent is in short supply.

In Silicon Valley, the common sense wisdom used to be that engineers were the most critical team members. The good ones were rare and hard to come by. Sometimes we called them ninjas or 10Xers.

More recently, the proliferation of consumer web apps made design a key differentiator. Designers became the scarce resource and salaries skyrocketed. Everyone who knew photoshop was suddenly rebranding themselves as a UX designer. No one really knew the difference between UX and UI, but we called them unicorns anyway and started the hunt.

The ideal team is often described as Hacker, Hustler & Hipster. Articles have made it into Forbes and Steve Blank posted his version back in 2011.

Even corporate teams have bought into the dogma to the degree that every innovation team must have a designer, hacker, and business person. No more than that and definitely no more than two pizzas worth of people!

The idea that there is an ideal team size and composition is...well... absurd.

(Except the pizza part. That's true from Dunbar's number.)

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The Lean Startup Playbook - Which test should I run next?

Lean Startup Interns Needed!

You may know I've been slowly, slowly, slowly working on a Creative Commons project called the Startup Real Book to help startup figure out what type of experiment/research to run and when. It's the most useful framework I have for coaching startups.

I use it to quickly identify both what they're doing wrong and a likely fix.(You can get on the download list here.)

However, the current format has been described as:

6 ambiguous scribbles. That’s a book?

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helpful customer discovery with Kevin Dewalt

Being Helpful – Interview with Kevin Dewalt

Kevin Dewalt (Founder of SoHelpful) is constantly helping startups 1-to-1. When he's not angel investing, playing golf or (allegedly) mangling the Chinese language in Beijing, he's always available to help out someone just getting started with lean startup. So I reached out to him to chat about his approach to early stage customer discovery...being helpful. You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his blog)

Q:  Your SoHelpful approach to early stage startup marketing is essentially, "stop marketing and start helping people 1-on-1." What makes you favor this route when every budding entrepreneur wants to put together a DropBox type demo video, post to HackerNews, and watch the signups?

These approaches are not working for the entrepreneurs I help, mentor, and invest in.

What I teach is based on what I do and what I see working for other startups. I wasn’t working with Drew when he did the DropBox “viral video MVP”, so I don’t actually know what is myth vs. truth. Drew himself probably doesn’t remember.

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Minimum Viable Team > Minimum Viable Product

Dharmesh Shah often puts out some great articles so I was pleased to read one on Choosing a Minimum Viable Co-founder. Having spent a lot of time on that subject while running a site dedicated to helping people find co-founders, I enjoyed this sentiment:

They're committed to the company, not just the current idea. Anecdotal data suggests that as fantastic as you may think your idea is, your idea will likely change.... If your co-founder is married to a specific manifestation of an idea, trouble will brew when the company is no longer pursuing that exact idea in that exact way. You need a co-founder that's committed to the cause — and committed to you.

I only wish the emphasis was more on the people and not "the company" or "the idea."

I have always found the pervasive quest to find a rockstar business guy or a ninja developer to be ridiculous, but the pursuit of someone who is "committed to the idea" is far more insidious because it's less obviously flawed. Why wouldn't you want a co-founder who's in love with your idea?

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Blame Culture via Tank

Blame Culture: “Who Gets Shot”

I read a blog post by Lance Weatherby that epitomized everything I think is stereotypically wrong in large organizations and was worth commenting on. Lance opines:

When it comes to roles and responsibilities a way to add a little clarity is to think in terms of who gets in trouble if something goes wrong (which is very different from who gets credit when something goes right). I call this who gets shot....

Imagine the team sitting around a big conference table. Imagine a little tank sitting in the middle of that table. The tank turret is always rotating and turning toward someone. The key is to solve the pressure point before the turret stops rotating and the gunner has time to take aim.

If we are not moving out product fast enough or the product we have is not functioning properly the turret turns to the CTO.

Market managers miss their numbers? Here come the tank. Sales reps don't generate a certain amount of revenue. Here comes the tank.

As I noted in the comments, I could not disagree more strongly.

There is a huge difference between responsibility and taking the blame

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