Truly Lean Startups Use Online Contract Developers


My first guest column for oDesk  is now live; they've been kind enough to give me permission to cross-post it here on my site as well. Let me know what you think!What do Dropbox, Intuit and HP have in common? Aside from being tremendously successful tech firms, they have all employed the Lean Startup methodology—a new approach to starting and building companies, services and products that focuses on shortening product development cycles, launching with the simplest possible product and then extensively testing and improving it. Created by Eric Ries and described in his book, The Lean Startup, this methodology is a great way to launch your new business idea as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The Lean Startup movement has also spawned the Lean Software Development concept, which focuses on developing software in a lean manner—primarily by eliminating all forms of waste in the development process. Most companies are focused on building the simplest product possible, eliminating unnecessary meetings and other small steps to eliminate waste. However, the truly cutting-edge lean startups are taking it to a new level by using teams of contract developers to develop not only their web presence but also their product itself.

By using an online work platform such as oDesk, a lean startup can hire exactly the number and type of experts they need, for exactly as long as they need them. Need an expert Magento developer for 2 months while you build and launch your ecommerce website? In the past, you were forced to hire from a local talent pool that might only contain average developers—now you can use the web to find and hire the best Magento developers around the world who can build your site faster and get you to market sooner, and who can work with you for exactly how long you need—no more, no less. Hiring online contractors gives you an edge other companies don’t have—you can hire the best developers, writers, marketers and more, and work with them for exactly as long as you need to.

For an example of when this comes in particularly handy, let’s look at the ‘pivot,’ a key concept to a Lean Startup. This structured ‘course correction’ is designed to help a Lean Startup explore a new product or strategy that testing shows may be more successful than the company’s current strategy. If you’ve hired a number of employees with a specific skillset, and suddenly discover that your business needs to pivot into a completely different direction that requires different skills, you’re faced with either attempting to retrain every employee or the grim decision to replace them all. If instead you’re using an online work platform to find the best contractors for your needs at that given moment, you simply shift your online team to one with the skills you need in order to execute the pivot.

Hiring contract developers and other experts online means that you can reduce waste and make the process of pivoting to a new business model as painless as possible. If you’re looking to become more of a Lean Startup through online contractors, here are a few tips we have found helpful:

  • Do your homework to ensure that the individual or firm you will be working with is successful and reputable enough to be in business when you need them. Nothing is worse than going to launch your new product, only to discover your developer has gone out of business and can no longer assist you.
  • If you don’t have a project manager on your team already, find a developer that has a project manager or hire a contract project manager. Nothing slows down a Lean Software Development project more than when your developer has a question and you are unable to answer in a timely manner. You have a business to run, so find a project manager you can rely on!
  • Check the credentials and certifications of each contractor you hire, and make sure they plan to do the work themselves, not subcontract it out. You want to build a team of experts.

Are you familiar with the Lean Startup movement? I've been reading Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works

recently, and would love to hear your thoughts on lean startups and especially Running Lean.

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Jamie Larson