March 2007

It is not easy to spot the moment when an organization looses its focus. But it is surprisingly obvious once it dawns on you. It can be likened to a knife loosing its sharpness. It is hard to spot the exact moment, but it is obvious once it stops to cut as it once did.

But putting allegories aside – in a startup I think it is the moment when it is not obvious anymore to everyone what their collective purpose it. It is the moment when business looses touch with reality and forgets about the basic product or service it provides turning its attention in a disproportional way to add-ons. It is the moment when the internal communication fails and the management team ceases to be just that – a team.

As I wrote already: communication is a crucial element here. In a startup it is, I think, always good at the beginning, when it is a small group of founders and first hires. Once a company develops past certain size – and especially if it becomes spread geographically – a dedicated, careful effort is necessary to prevent it from deteriorating.

Lack of this effort can be dangerous.

We’re well into our first iteration of the development project with all Scrum methods in place. We have a proper sprint backlog now, with tasks, kept in ScrumWorks. There are daily status meetings called Daily Scrums. I have to say that I do see the benefits already. Even though the team is a bit too small and I’m not always on site – so I’m trying to moderate over Skype, which doesn’t work as well.

The biggest benefit is, I think, a noticeable improvement in communication. Now I really do know every day where the team is, what was accomplished, what wasn’t, what’s in their way – and what chances we have to deliver on our promises. I don’t need any reports now. Even between the Daily Scrums I can always open the ScrumWorks and see what has changed. I hope the team feels the same way about it.

This improvement led me to see even more how much the whole management team could also benefit from better communication. A weekly scrum meeting could do wonders for a bunch of people, who spend most of their time traveling around the region, doing various things and not talking to each other.

Good, frequent communication in a team is necessary. Even more so in a dispersed one. But unless all those involved are from similar backgrounds, age groups etc. – and on top of that like each other – such a communication won’t appear on its own. It has to be cleverly fostered within a team. Scrum gives an excellent, simple tool to do so – the Daily Scrum meeting.