Part of the startup process is learning and evolving as you move forward. You may start with an idea, but that will change quickly in the early months, and even years, depending in part on your market, on new ideas and opportunities, and on the development processes you have in place. Planning and organizing too much at the start, and too far ahead, may seem like a good strategy to take control of the process, but in most cases, what may initially seem a bit of a mess will lead to real success.

Staying agile

I’ve written before on the benefits of agile methodology for startups. What is common to all startups, regardless of their focus, is that the initial idea, the starting plan, will grow and change with time. For that reason, it is important to focus on one strength at a time, one feature at a time, and to focus primarily on a short-term plan. While it is okay to have a longer-term overall strategy, the focus should be on short-term goals, on working plans that look two weeks ahead, three at most, so that you stay flexible and nimble.

A startup is fluid rather than strictly defined, and this kind of short-term planning is what will allow you to adapt, drop or add features, or adjust your strategy as new markets and new user demands become evident.

The importance of the right developer

This kind of development strategy is not for everyone. It is important therefore to choose the right developer to avoid conflict throughout the development process. The first thing you want to ensure is that your developer is open to a phased approach such as this. One indicator that they may not be is if all of their experience has been with larger companies and on large projects. This kind of experience lends itself to a mindset that the entire project must be laid out in advance rather than the startup mindset of evolving as the product advances.

While you do not want a developer who is overly experienced in the larger-project model, you also do not want one who is lacking in experience to the point that they will agree to anything. The ideal developer will understand your ideas and be able to communicate them back to you using the technology they believe will work best. They will also understand well enough to be able to challenge you and say no if something you are considering doesn’t make sense. Finding the right developer is key.

Development time vs product

In an ideal situation, the founder will have access to the source code throughout the process as a way of ensuring work is being done, and as a safety measure in case something happens with the developer. The old-school model of having a product developed and then paying the developer and receiving the final product, is not effective for a lot of reasons, but it might be what developers expect.

Some developers may consider the prospect of this structure risky, but it is critical to find someone who is agreeable to a module-based model of working together, who understands it from the concept of development time. Ideally, you will have an agreement with a developer in which they are paid per feature or per smaller unit of development time. This will support the fluidity of the product because the focus is going to be on small and short-term goals. This will also ensure that the developer is paid for what they do, that the founder pays for what they get, and that they both have access to code and deliverables along the way.

Remember that the greatest strength for a startup is their ability to respond, adapt and change with their growing understanding of the market, the user, and the experience they want to create. Over-organizing will limit your creativity and your ability to succeed.

What lessons have you learned about being too organized? What methods do you use to move forward without planning too far ahead?