Having a great software idea in your head and a fast moving software team to make that idea a reality is what it must be like to be on drugs. It’s addictive, it makes you stay high and there is nothing in this world that you can quite see with pessimism. This is what makes software entrepreneurship so attractive, this is what makes thousands maybe even millions give up their jobs and jump into this unknown, knowing all the risks and odds.
But beyond all the known risks there is an enemy that is always lurking– and very few people recognize it. If not recognized this enemy can kill.
The enemy is within. It is your enthusiasm! Yes, the very thing that makes the start-up successful, the experience amazing and that fosters innovation can also if not kept in check destroy everything.
Kaz, as a software development consultancy, that works with early stage start-ups and their highly driven owners and leaders, we’ve seen that enemy many times. And we have helped our clients tame this enemy and use it in right direction for the right causes.
Today I will list the top 5 reminders we give to our clients - to keep that enemy in control.
1. Remember that the app will solve only one thing.
In the mind of the owner the original idea of the software evolves and starts to become something that can solve anything. Maybe it can, but time and money both are limited. And the urge to add yet another feature to cover yet another use case can derail the software building process and eventually delay things enough to make the app fail.
The only way to keep things in control is to remember that however great the app, it will probably solve only one human pain – that is the most important use case and everything else can be discarded. The focus should be only that single use case, and release with that use case.
We sometimes suggest our clients to have the use case put into a single sentence, print it out and paste it in front of them somewhere visible.
2. Remember to compromise
A piece of software is all about compromise. You have to compromise on features, bugs that need to be fixed, delays you have to accept – the list is endless. By knowing when to compromise and on what, you make development process smooth and meet the deadlines. And most importantly for early stage startups get the release up where people can start using it.
For entrepreneurs, their idea and thus the software is like their own child. This makes it very difficult to compromise. In some cases, we’ve found, they forget that it is good to compromise. They start treating compromise as something evil. And this has huge negative impact on delivery schedules.
Remembering to compromise is something that makes the difference between a software out on production box and a software in an endless loop of fine-tuning in the dev box.
3. Remember to trust others
Software requires collaboration. A single person cannot get everything done to get a software from ideas to reality. And collaboration implicitly requires trust.
Normally a software group can easily create trust amongst its members (obviously things can go wrong, but that’s because of some real problem in the team). But in a start-up scenario, especially in its early stages, sometimes the owner can find it difficult to form that trust relationship with her developers. The cause, I think, is because of the constant feedback she gets from the team about the time it might take get certain cherished features done, etc. As harbinger of bad news, typically the team lead may seem to be the person who always dampens the spirit. This can sometimes make the owners difficult to trust the lead or the team. And if that happens everything suffers.
Teaching herself to trust can be one of the best things that an entrepreneur can do to help the team. When we face circumstances like this, we try communicating this in various ways. Not being Dutch and not having the wonderful ability to say things directly makes it difficult for us! But our way out is to do it in little steps and also to involve the owner more with the actual development process so that she can understand things better.
4. Remember that the software is for others.
This one is the hardest to remember. The entrepreneur lives with the idea and process of software building with such focus that, we find sometimes, she forgets that the software she is building is actually for someone else – users! Remembering this important, knowing what your first customers are like and that the fact they might have completely different persona and requirements than you keeps the feature planning and decisions on track. What you may value as important may not be what your average users would value so much.
We suggest doing a regular thought exercise where a question starts with “When user Mr. X uses this feature…” to our customers. This sets the context and understanding that the software need to be viewed through the eyes of a typical users. Our interaction designers are big on Alan Cooper’s user persona creation process and we have found that including the owner with that process helps immensely to disassociate herself from the target software users.
5. Remember that there is a tomorrow.
Owners sometime forget that software has the possibility of versions. What we cannot achieve in this version can easily be added to the next version. Splitting up the features into versions and phases is the essential software project management activity.
Sometimes it’s hard to push cherished features in the back-log, and owners feel like that they have to cram everything in the next release. If the next release is the first one, this is most painfully felt. Remembering that there is a tomorrow that a new release can be done pretty soon – even really the next day can help a lot.