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In the startup world, the pressure to get things done fast abounds. Too often that pressure solidifies into a false form of agile development. With no direction, vision, or roadmap, developers and designers are sent to complete vague tasks with almost none of the information they need to produce a quality product.

The business world is complicated. Ownership has to stay on top of investor concerns, C-level KPIs, customer needs and wants, and employee morale. Most of these things are directly intertwined in ways that are difficult to understand from the outside, but come together in painfully obvious ways once you take a close look inside an organization struggling with lack of direction and product guidance.

Inside the organization, the creative thinkers, implementors, and support staff need to understand the vision and direction behind each and every project. These are the people that somehow need to get from A to F to Z and know why they are doing it. Just giving them instructions on doing a thing isn’t good enough. Without understanding the business goals of a task, creatives will miss opportunities to enhance and make a better product fit for users. They’ll also quickly get demotivated by the lack of direction and vision. They’ll spend time struggling to find them on their own.

To design a product or feature with initial and lasting quality, your team needs to understand:

  • What are they building?
  • For whom is it being built?
  • Why is it being built? What problems does it solve?
  • Is there a roadmap? Is this a step towards something bigger?

Too often, businesses will just throw a developer, designer, etc onto tasks rather than thinking and designing through the who, why, and what throughly. C suite and management starts to wonder why “simple” tasks are taking so long. They wonder why they seem to have to keep re-doing the same projects over and over again wasting time and money. Ready, fire, aim is a prohibitively expensive process.

Design and project management are critical to preventing these issues. Circumventing design and just haphazardly throwing resources at tasks will always produce subpar results.

On each team, there needs to be at least one person that can digest the entire project, and understand the current and future state. As tasks are planned out, the project manager or product owner maintains the vision for the entire lay of the land and can explain to developers and designers the reasons why the smaller more agile steps need to be taken.

Everyone wants to build the grand vision right away, but this has to be tempered by business realities. However, it is not enough to just explain this to the team. Where many organizations start to slip is that they fail to properly communicate the small steps that will be taken to get to the grand result. Each of these steps need to be well thought out, defined, and explained to the entire organization. This way creatives and implementors don’t get demotivated thinking that everything is always being done half-way. They know there is a reason for their work, even though it may in fact be replaced by the grand vision.

Throughout this whole process, teams and individuals must not work in isolation. There should be a feedback loop that goes all the way from top to bottom, and even more importantly, bottom to top. No one should be isolated. No one should be fearful of expressing their view of the state of things, and how it could be improved.

Agile doesn’t mean to keep firing before aiming and hoping you hit a target. It means with each iteration you keep getting closer and closer to the target. Give your team a vision and plan to ensure your own success.

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