Agile is everywhere. We hear about it in ads, see it on social media, and even read about it in Harvard Business Review, where you can find titles like: “The Agile Enterprise,” “The Agile C-suite,” and even “Leading Agile, by Being Agile”. It’s definitely a buzz word.
But what does agile mean?
To me, it’s three things:
- We don’t know the future, so we need to be flexible.
- We will never have enough time or money to do everything we want to do, so we have to prioritize.
- We we won’t always get it right the first time, so we need to constantly make improvements and adjustments.
In other words: agile is about embracing change, being flexible, focusing on priorities, and continually improving based on everything that is changing in our world.
The Founding of inQbation
Back in the day, the company that would eventually become Agileana was out in Southern California, not far from Venice Beach. We were helping to incubate and accelerate startups. So, we called ourselves inQbation.
By the way: one mistake was spelling inQbation with a Q, which seemed clever at the time but backfired because people kept misspelling the e-mail address. Number one rule of branding is to make it easy to spell and we failed.
Then 2008 happened. The economy crashed and venture capital dried up.
So, inQbation pivoted. Our new idea was to build small websites for actors and businesses in United States.
inQbation Does a Little Too Well
Despite the economic downturn, inQbation got traction and grew really fast, probably a bit too fast.
“We had a lot of small clients and a lot of those clients were too small and they were taking too much of our time and it wasn’t worth it,” says Agileana project manager Virginia Alvarez.
“And some of them were not that great at paying our bills so we made another change, we got rid of some of those smaller clients and went for bigger projects.”
We’d taken on too many clients and too many projects, we were dropping balls and something had to give.
We needed to make adjustments. We had to prioritize and cut back on the amount of projects we were doing.
In short, inQbation had to be agile.
We ended up creating something like Santa’s nice list. We identified the types of clients we enjoyed working with; those with realistic budgets and deadlines, people who were friendly and understanding, clients who paid their bills on time.
Then, we created a naughty list, which was the opposite of the nice list. We kept the nice ones and dropped the naughty ones. In fact, we got rid of 80% of our clients, kept only the big ones that paid well.
Were we nervous about cutting 80% of your clients?
But, in hindsight, it turned out to be one of the best decision the business ever made. We had fewer clients, less stress, and less work. We had fewer employees, the revenue stayed the same, salaries probably doubled, and everybody was just so much more relaxed and in control of what was going on.
And so, when the Obama administration came to the White House, we figured they would invest in government websites and web apps. We needed to get as close to the White House as possible.
So, inQbation moved to Washington, D.C. Within 18 months, we were working with the White House CIO to design Data.gov.
And inQbation was no longer relevant. We weren’t incubating startups anymore. So, we rebranded the company to Agileana: lean and agile. The two principles that took the business to where it is today.
Agile is About More Than Just Software Development
Agile is a way to approach everything in business and in life. You see patterns, the world is changing, you have an epiphany, you sketch it out on a napkin, get some feedback, make iterative improvements, focus on your priorities. Sometimes you drop 80% of your clients.
“As soon as you start seeing things in action, you notice certain things don’t work the way you thought they were going to work,” says Virginia, “so with agile, you need to be flexible and you need to embrace change.”
The world is changing and we have to change with it … or else, we’d still be overworked, stressed out, and bugging clients to pay us. And we’d call ourselves inQbation.