OpenView's Experiences with Agile

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InfoWorld reported that Agile software development is now mainstream. It is good to see that Agile is picking up steam as it is probably the single best set of principles and practices that a software company can incorporate to give the company an unfair competitive advantage at this point (at some point in the adoption curve companies that have not adopted it will be at a competitive disadvantage).

Our experience with Agile development started several years ago when we noticed that a few of our portfolio companies were starting to talk about it and incorporating Agile into their development practices. We didn’t know exactly what to think about it, but the reports coming from the portfolio companies were positive and it seemed like an area that we should know more about.

Three years ago, we invested in VersionOne, a company that has one of the most popular software/SAAS products on the market for supporting agile development teams (scrum boards or spreadsheets work great for small teams, but the more teams and the more distributed the teams, the more developers need a product like VersionOne). One of the great things about our investment in VersionOne — beyond the fact that they are a great success in the market — is that their development team has nailed the principles and practices relating to agile (as well as many of the other newer software development practices). Also, the combination of learning from their team and having a software product that we can suggest to our other portfolio companies has made our global consulting services team, OpenView Labs, operate at a much higher level.

Three years ago we were also introduced to Jeff Sutherland, co-inventor of Scrum (the most popular type of agile), which was a transformational event for OpenView (Jeff maintains a great blog on the topic, btw).

My first introduction was over breakfast with Jeff. I told him about our experiences and how I was impressed that one of our portfolio companies reported a 30% increase in productivity using agile. I was proud to have “discovered” an approach that created a 30% productivity lift, but Jeff’s response was: “Clearly they are doing it wrong. They should be getting double or triple the productivity if they were doing it right.” As a venture capitalist that covets capital efficiency and takes great pride in offering strategic consulting services to our portfolio companies to help create unfair competitive advantages, that statement got me to straighten up and pay attention to the rest of the conversation!

Very quickly after introducing Jeff to the OpenView team, we asked Jeff to become a Senior Advisor to OpenView and spend a week or so each month working with our portfolio companies, helping them to get to Agile best practices.

We also asked Jeff to lead a yearly Forum/Workshop for our portfolio companies and to do a scrum master training and certification program for our firm and portfolio companies (many visitors to our website probably scratch their heads when they see in the bios of many team members that we are certified scrum masters).

Coming out of the scrum master training session and our first Agile workshop we began to hear great feedback from several portfolio companies that they had started implementing some of the scrum practices and that they were getting some great results. In addition, the OpenView team works on the constant issue of helping our expansion stage portfolio companies develop and grow and continues to work on ways that can add more value to our portfolio companies.

Over time, we have had additional agile development forums and workshops and Jeff has spent a lot of time working with and coaching our portfolio companies, which we recently released as a case study.

We have also spent a great deal of time working agile principles and practices into more traditional management practices and developed the first cut of an Agile Company Development methodology. We use this to run our firm and have also trained and coached our portfolio companies on this methodology at several forums and workshops. We recently released this as a case study as well. The companies that have adopted it have found that it takes some work to initiate the methodology, but that once it is in the rhythm of the company it really helps to propel the company development forward, which is extremely important for expansion stage companies (The results include better companies, higher quality and more consistent results, and happier teams).

To date, our experiences with Agile have been remarkable. We continue to develop our techniques and network to help our portfolio companies more and we have some plans to get our Agile Company Development Methodology to the next level and make it more accessible by our expansion stage technology community later this year.

I will be posting more on these topics. We will also have a weekly tips-and-tricks e-mail that is meant to identify the best ideas for helping expansion stage companies each week and point to those resources where we will have ongoing ideas and updates. Subscribe here.