In January 2016, a small Swedish start-up company agreed to inviting a colleague and I to do a 1-day-testing of their Kickstarter funded product. It was wildly different from what I’m used to from larger projects in established (often finance-related) companies. During our small session, I quietly did some observations that I think is nice to know for other consultants facing a start-up project.
…this might not be an average project form. It might not even have a form.
Forget about projects following the latest buzzword-driven project methodology. At this start-up (and probably a lot of other as well), not one day is the same. They did small sprints where they implemented the planned new features, and planned even more new features as the sprints went by. What’s interesting is that this project, in my perspective, came the closest to being a project with an agile approach. Even though almost every project I’ve encountered up to today claimed that they were agile.
Most important of all, small start-up projects like these are not bound to follow that one solution. Sure, a lot of projects wants to be Agile or DevOps, because that’s what the cool kids do nowadays. But projects change over time, and with those changes sometimes comes the need to change the way you work in the project as well. At this start-up they didn’t care about if the methodology was the RIGHT thing to do. What they cared about was whether it was the right thing to do RIGHT NOW. I’ve never seen this willingness to adapt before.
…your professional title is irrelevant and that you need to fit in
Start-ups doesn’t have a lot of people with fancy working titles like “Technical test QA analyst lead”. They probably ain’t got time for that! What they do have however, is people with a passion for the product they are making. And if that means doing the work of 10 different titles, so be it.
When we visited the start-up, there were 4 people at the office. I was quick to label them as “developers”. Turned out they were so much more than that. I was surprised at how smoothly they transitioned between knowing about sales, design, user experience, creative thinking, hard-core hardware technical stuff, coding and development, management and so on. For every area that I brought up and thought they hadn’t considered, they already had ideas, opinions and plans for what they would do within that area.
That transitioning between roles and their broad perspectives made the largest impression on me, and got me thinking. When you as a consultant join a project, you have to fit into the project. Often that means finding out what the project is lacking in skills and roles, and then take on that role. Even if it’s not your preferred.
…the project politics and stakeholders are completely different
This start-up funded the project through Kickstarter, and is developing their product continuously. This makes the stakeholders of the project the customers who helped fund the product. And the stakeholder-customers are mostly a grateful bunch. They all bought the product knowing that it would be a work in progress. So there are no pressure on them to reach a certain sale, or a certain number of customers to please their stakeholders.
This allows the project team to do what they think is sensible, while steering clear of politics. If they make a mistake, they are usually forgiven. If they decide to change a large part of the program, the customers give them feedback and suggestions. This means that this start-up can interact with their customers in a completely different way than what my average financial project is used to, and as a tester you should catch that opportunity and involve the project and the customers. Maker sure they have an easy way to give feedback to the project. Make sure they know that their feedback matters. And make sure that the gold from the feedback is actually used.
If you are a lucky consultant and a small start-up company hires you for their project, keep an open mind and adapt to the project. I’m sure the experience will be interesting!