Building an agile startup

I wound down my freelancing business at the end of 2011 in order to dedicate some time to building my own product. For a long time now I've felt there's been a need for a better Agile planning app that caters to those of us who enjoy working in short iterations (or "sprints", if you're into Scrum).

I'm not going to elaborate too much here on what I feel is missing from the existing apps, but discussions with other developers have consistently reinforced my thinking; there's a better way to do it.

I've been throwing the key features around in my head for several years now. I started out by telling myself not to be so daft – "the world doesn't need yet another Agile project management app!" And yet, I struggle to use any of the existing apps. It seems that I'm not alone, as building your own an agile app is so common that it's become something of a cliché in developer circles.

Early in 2011 I approached a good friend and excellent designer with some sketches of what I'd like to be using, and he converted them into beautiful screenshots. You can see them on the tour page.

The developers that have seen the mockups have all seemed keen to use it. That's a great start, but the question that has been nagging at the back of my mind is whether they'd buy it if they didn't know me. Would they even think it was worth a look? How many people really have the same problem that I do?

Going Lean

How do you test whether anybody would pay for your product idea? Asking your friends is all well and good, and it's great when they're enthusiastic, but they're also biased. For the most part they already know how I approach project management, and they know that it works. They also want me to succeed, so they're egging me on.

Their positivity has encouraged me to give the idea a proper go -- I've given up the day job to focus all my attention on building a company around the idea. And yet, I can't risk investing several months of my life in building my vision of the perfect agile app, as I am not my customer!

So I'm giving the techniques in The Lean Startup a try.

I need to invest as little effort as I can in order to demonstrate that I stand a good chance of selling my app. I need to build a minimum viable product (MVP):

The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning with the least effort. -- Eric Ries

So how do I identify my first MVP? To do that I need to identify a hypothesis to test, and then think of ways to test it.

I'll be writing more on that in a later post. I'm also writing a series of articles called Building Agile Planner over on the Agile Planner blog (you can subscribe here), where I'll be writing up how things have gone. Forthcoming posts on will either cover what I'm learning about Lean, or more of the standard technical stuff that I've posted in the past.

I love feedback and questions — please feel free to get in touch on Mastodon or Twitter, or leave a comment.

Published on in Agile