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Agile Methods and Startup Companies

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Jessica Livingston's much anticipated book Founders at Work is finally available, featuring numerous interviews with successful entrepreneurs, including Steve Wozniak, David Heinemeier Hansson and Paul Graham. Jessica Livingston is a founding partner at Y Combinator, a seed-stage venture firm responsible for a variety of Web 2.0 startup companies.

Founders at WorkAlthough not targeted at agile software developers, anyone familiar with agile methods will recognize the advice from startup companies on how to build software. In a startup, limited time and money means that there is no room for processes that do not directly add value to the product. One of the interviewees, David Heinemeier Hansson, is the creator of Ruby on Rails and is a partner at 37signals, a software company which creates lightweight online applications for organization and project management. The team at 37signals has published their own book titled Getting Real, in which they outline their approach to building a company - and building software. They don't explicitly use the word "agile," but much of their advice - as well as the stories told in Founders at Work - reads as though it was taken from the agile playbook.

From Getting Real, on capturing customer requirements from the customer:
If you do find yourself requiring words to explain a new feature or concept, write a brief story about it. Don't get into the technical or design details, just tell a quick story. Do it in a human way, like you would in normal conversation.
...and on the importance of iterative development:
Instead of banking on getting everything right upfront, the iterative process lets you continue to make informed decisions as you go along. Plus, you'll get an active app up and running quicker since you're not striving for perfection right out the gate. The result is real feedback and real guidance on what requires your attention.

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