Lean Startup MachineLast weekend I attended Lean Startup Machine in Boston. It was a learning-packed 72 hours and I think all entrepreneurs should attend one. In addition to the hands-on exercises applying Lean Startup Methodologies, it was a great way to meet other entrepreneurs and be energized by their passion for solving problems. The experience put my marketing, sales, project management, learning and technical chops to the test in practical and exciting ways. And while the event was clearly focused on empowering entrepreneurs, I believe that there are many takeaways that apply directly to people who are want to successfully outsource technical projects.

1. Relationships matter

I was very lucky to join an excellent team (go team MHealth!) but all of the teams were filled with great people. What stuck out to me about our team was how much we got to know each other over the 3 days of the event, to the extent that we were cracking jokes about our personal lives on the first night. This connection with one another helped us through some of the more frustrating parts of the weekend because we had created a bond and platform for honest communication within the team. Similarly, I believe that creating a bond with your offshore team is critical for success.

CommandosShirtsCostaRica_smallAt AgilityFeat, we love to have our clients travel to Costa Rica to meet our team in person in order to create the type of real, personal relationships that make projects successful. Or if you prefer, our team members can come visit you in person. If this isn’t possible for you, I recommend investing the time to build connections with your team over video chats. It’s important for the team to learn about each other’s lives and to bond so that a platform for honest, open communication is fostered.

2. Institutionalize Learning

In the Lean Startup Machine, you use the Javelin Board. In Agile projects, you use retrospectives. Taking the time to document what you learn is critical to creating the type of virtuous cycle that is needed to constantly improve the team’s performance. At AgilityFeat, we use a tool that we built for Lithespeed, called Sensei to track our retrospectives and commitments. Each week we document what we are doing well and what we can improve on with our clients, set actions to improve and then track our progress against those actions. By setting a time and format for regular retrospectives,  you will create regular feedback sessions for course correction and team improvement.

3. Balance the process with the results

There are some parts of the Lean Startup process that I see as non-negotiable. Documenting assumptions, creating hypotheses and success criteria are important parts of the learning cycle. Similarly, planning sessions, demos and retrospectives are critical for Agile projects to succeed. This is true of in-house as well as outsourced projects. However, each team may find it’s own rhythm of working together and may decide some artifacts are not needed. Be comfortable making your own rules as long as they are delivering the results you are looking for and don’t get too caught up on the tools or process. If something isn’t working, talk about it with the team and make a change.

4. Play your role

During Lean Startup Machine, our team naturally fell into roles that we were each comfortable playing and within a very short period of time, everyone on the team knew who would be best at tackling a particular task or issue. Similarly, as a owner of an outsourced project, you need to understand who plays what role on the team. This understanding will help you nurture a natural flow of work and reinforce the type of teamwork that will make your project a success. For you, the product owner, staying actively involved is critical. Don’t skip standups or planning meetings. As a product owner, it’s your job to set the priority and definition of user stories and doing so effectively makes a big difference.

Have questions about how to make your outsource project a success? Drop my a line here or call me at (617) 871-0882