Startups need to stay agile to succeed in our ever-changing environment

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As Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “Everything changes and nothing stands still.” This rings all the more true for businesses operating in today’s rapid-paced, constantly changing environment, where market leaders can quickly be unseated by a small, more nimble startup.

Just look at how Tesla’s latest innovation, the PowerWall, is set to disrupt the unchallenged energy sector; how streaming music service Spotify challenged Apple, who themselves challenged the future of the record store through its iTunes; how Uber has dominated the taxi industry so quickly since its launch of its first service in San Francisco in 2010. At the end of 2014, after its last round of funding, Uber was valued at US$41-billion.

These companies all have one thing in common: they moved faster than their more entrenched competitors, bringing new innovation to the market quickly and constantly. The traditional market leaders had become too comfortable and complacent in their success, their organisational structures had become too rigid. By the time the disruptors arrived on the scene, they could not adapt quickly enough.

Every company that wants to be successful in today’s business world has to have the ability to adapt. If it can’t adapt, it will inevitably become irrelevant and risk falling to ruin. Regardless of its size, an organisation needs the courage to embrace a mindset for flexible strategies. Business guru Mintzberg pointed out how emergent strategies arising at any level in the organisation can supplement or even replace deliberate strategies.

Establishing and maintaining a corporate culture that will allow flexible strategies to be developed remains a constant challenge. At Stone Three we achieve this with our unique approach towards client engagements, internal business processes and technology development.

Adaptable client engagements

Client engagements built upon the concepts of co-discovery and co-creation offer the best results. By merging the client’s business and ours in a type of project-based joint venture, all the elements of a particular project can jointly be discovered, discussed, and defined, and business relevant solutions created. Doing it this way means there’s less risk of us misinterpreting a client’s wishes, or moving in a direction that takes us away from, instead of toward the client’s business objectives.

Adaptable business processes

At a business process level, we have devised and refined our own unique blend of Agile development methodologies long before Agile development became a best practice within the software development industry. It takes a lot of time and energy to achieve perfection, and often, by the time you do, the product is out of date, or a competitor has beat you to market. That perfect product is often based on untested assumptions regarding both technology and market.

Agile offers a way around this by focusing on incremental feature development and improvements. This allows key assumptions to be validated at the lowest cost with a scaled-down, good-enough-for-right-now product that can be tested and built upon. This process offers efficient design adaptability where required throughout the product design lifecycle.

Adaptable technologies

Technologies such as the new concept of “software defined everything” — whether it refers to radio, networking or something else — offer great flexibility by not tying you to a static piece of hardware. In this context, software becomes the tool for changing the way a piece of hardware operates — for example, if Wi-Fi routers were software-defined, you wouldn’t need to purchase a new one every time a new standard is released.

A great example of a company using software defined technology is Tesla, who can change functionality in their electric cars simply by owners downloading a piece of software. Other uses include communication systems in the maritime and military context, as well as server technologies related to virtualisation.

Similarly, cloud computing enables businesses to have controlled overheads for their technology infrastructure. Instead of making large investments into expensive servers, software, and other IT infrastructure, companies can spend a reasonably fixed — or at least predictable — amount thanks to the scalability that cloud offers. If you need a better project management tool, you can simply sign up for a Software-as-a-Service option that offers low costs and the opportunity to switch to a better or more affordable option without wasting your capital expenditure.

If you need to develop new software but your skills pool is spread across broad geographical areas, you can opt for a Platform-as-a-Service option such as Google App Engine which allows the development team to allocate additional resources when necessary, without having to pay for those resources when the demand for them drops.

The ability to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing environment is the measure of successful companies of today. Any incumbent market leader can be unseated almost overnight by more nimble upstarts, thanks largely to the disruptive forces of technology. Organisations that want to be in a position to constantly and successfully adapt to new challenges should focus on fostering a culture where the strategy, the technologies deployed in achieving that strategy and the client relationship can all remain adaptable. Being too rigid and dogmatic only opens you up to being unseated by the next Uber.

Image by gunarsg via Flickr



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