The Rise of Agile Organizational Development


There’s lots of buzz in the startup community about agile software development; there are software programs, books, and seminars on the topic, and even huge firms like IBM are now touting their “agile development solutions”. The general idea is to create a team and a software process that is flexible, quick, and adaptive to feedback from the market. Put stuff out there, collect feedback on what works, kill what doesn’t, improve what does, rinse and repeat.

But there’s a parallel trend occurring in the early stage technology market that hasn’t been talked about much. Programs like TechStars, Y Combinator, and Founder’s Co-op have been pioneering what I like to call agile organizational development. These “initiator” organizations provide founding entrepreneurs with an incredibly compressed calendar of iterative feedback on all aspects of their company. The feedback comes from a broad network experienced entrepreneurs who serve as mentors in these programs, and it comes often, regularly, and relentlessly.

Mentors in these programs provide feedback on the startup’s team, 30 second pitch, fund raising pitch, positioning, product, pricing—on just about every aspect of the organization. Some of the feedback is contradictory—just like market feedback can be. The TechStars program even has a name for the confusion that results from conflicting advice: “mentor whiplash”.

The net effect of all this mentor input is a set of organizations that adapt to market feedback much more nimbly than startup organizations of the past. This feedback cycle and the entrepreneurs’ response is what I’m calling agile organizational development, and my bet is that the companies that embrace it are much more likely to succeed than those that don’t.

These programs are all relatively new, and there aren’t any books or seminars on the topic yet—but I’m betting there will be.

Andy Sack is a serial entrepreneur and Managing General Partner at Founder's Co-op, a peer-to-peer seed stage investment fund located in Seattle. Follow @andysack

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2 responses to “The Rise of Agile Organizational Development”

  1. Great post Andy. It’s great to see companies extending Agile into the organization and not just for the development of a product. Agile principles and practices can easily be used throughout, if the company is willing and able to take and implement feedback. Start-ups are uniquely positioned to do so, and having experienced people behind you giving you that advice will definitely help immensely.