A Lean Startup is Going to Eat Your Lunch

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Warning: Your competitors are not the patient type.

One of the most common pitfalls I see in companies trying to employ Agile practices is excessive pre-planning — their assumption is that we can decide by planning, learn by planning, or mitigate risk by planning. This sometimes manifests as an anti-pattern that people call “Sprint Zero” — a signal that an organization misunderstands Agile methods fundamentally. More importantly, a signal that the organization may incorrectly perceive Software Engineering — or any team-based work — as predictable and repetitive rather than the complex, creative endeavor that it is.

One of the most powerful assumptions built in to Agile methods is that we learn by doing — that our learning, our planning, our problem-solving, and our ability to mitigate risk is enhanced when planning is performed inline with active development and in the context of deliberate experimentation. Scrum, for example, is based on empirical process control theory which means that we make decisions based on what is known and we actively seek feedback to test our assumptions and minimize bias.

If your organization injects a “Sprint Zero” or a planning phase (that is measured in weeks rather than days or hours) ahead of the creation/development of real product, then, as Michael James said at LinkedIn: “A lean startup is going to eat your lunch.”


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David Sabine
David Sabine
Professional Scrum Trainer
Professional Kanban Trainer

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