Adapting to the Change Your Customers Want

Following an iterative development process enables your customers to teach you how to deliver better products and services.
Latest posts by Joseph Flahiff, PMP (see all)

Too often I talk with potential startups who are stuck in analysis paralysis trying to create a far-too-detailed business plan. You hear it all the time, “never start your business without a detailed business plan.” Typically these business plans are 30 to 50 pages in length filled with detailed analysis and financial information and no one ever reads them.

In his book Agile Project Management, Jim Highsmith (one of the gurus of Agile software development) states:

“Companies trying to thrive in our turbulent economy must alter both their process and their perspectives with respect to change. We are no longer talking about 15%-20% scope creep on projects; we are talking about everything changing – Scope, Features, Technology, Architecture (but not vision) – Within a few months.”

Everything is Up for Change

This statement is just as true for startups as it is for projects. Your vision is a constant. This is an important foundation of your business. However, everything else is up for change. Everything! So set your vision carefully and be willing to change everything else.

Revisiting Mark (The Traditional Entrepreneur)

In this series on Agile Business Creation (ABC), we have been looking at how Mark, a traditional plan-the-work-work-the-plan-and-launch-it-like-the-big-bang entrepreneur who was “stuck” trying to find a distributor for his product, can change his business. Mark’s “stuckness” is a classic example of analysis paralysis. Let’s take a look at how Mark can apply the third and final tenant of ABC, which is to Adapt to Change.

Mark was stuck in his business plan, believing that he was supposed to be marketing to his distributors. Mark then went back and focused on his customers to get their input (Customer Collaboration) in his product development process. He worked to get real working products in their hands throughout the process. Mark was excited and reinvigorated by this process, because he was back in touch with his vision of his business, helping older adults who want to keep their minds active.

Leveraging Iterative Development Cycles

In Agile Business Creation, products and services are completed in short, complete development cycles (known as iterations). This is what makes agile really different from traditional approaches to starting a business.

ABC uses short (2-4 week) creation cycles in which you create a complete offering and deliver it to your customers. After this launch you do it again, adding to the product AND incorporating any feedback from your customers and releasing again. Building iteratively and releasing to your customers bit-by-bit, in a cycle that ultimately produces a better product line. You adapt to the desires of your customers for extensions of your products, and this typically enables you to grow your product line and reach a broader audience or to increase your sales to the same audience.

Letting Your Customers Teach You

This iterative development approach is not for the faint of heart. You will need to be ok being “wrong.” You will need to adapt and change when your customers tell you that your favorite offering is unappealing and show you how you need to adjust it.

After all, you are there to serve them.

Adapting to Change in your product development cycle through continuously improved iterative releases helps you to get to market with a product that will be fully embraced by your target audience, increasing your probability of product success.

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