On Agile Methods and the Rise of Lean Startup: An Interview with Arlen Bankston


JV: Can you explain what exactly are “pirate metrics?”

AB: The term was coined by Dave McClure to describe acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral (AARRR!), which he deemed a good set of metrics that cover a typical customer conversation funnel, from early interest to lock-in and finally organic growth through social recommendations.

JV: Can you share an example of how an organization adopted and applied some of the tools and techniques you mention in your session? What stumbling blocks did this organization face and how did it overcome those?

AB: My best example is from my own company, LitheSpeed, in the development of our tool Sensei. We trusted too much in our own instincts and internal validation and didn’t expose our initial idea to potential stakeholders deeply enough before we began development. After we’d invested a good amount in building (both monetarily and emotionally), it was almost too late to revisit the core proposition of the product. We’re using some of the customer-satisfaction tools now to tune the experience and continue learning, but we would have been better off if we’d been tougher on ourselves and our idea from the start.

JV: Have government agencies or related contractors been more hesitant to adopt any of the practices you discuss?

AB: Yes, though they’ve started doing so nonetheless. The problem with many government programs is that they’re supposed to be validated and thoroughly planned before they even begin, which is at the heart of the tension. The whole idea of the Lean Startup is to cull the weak ideas and uncover the hidden opportunities in early stages through quick prototyping, and you clearly can’t do that if you have to lock down the details of the project from the start. This inflexibility is built into many of the contracting structures commonly applied by government agencies. Even so, you’ll find plenty of stories of lean and agile approaches being applied by government entities, from the city of Palo Alto to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.


ArlenArlen Bankston is an established leader in the application and evolution of agile software development processes such as Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming, as well as process management methodologies such as lean and six sigma. He is a lean six sigma master black belt, certified ScrumMaster trainer, and certified scrum product owner. He has thirteen years of experience, beginning in product design, where he leveraged principles of information architecture, interaction design and usability to develop innovative products that met customers' expressed and unspoken needs. Arlen has led agile and lean deployment and managed process improvement projects at clients such as Capital One, Neustar, CCP Games, T. Rowe Price, Freddie Mac, and the Armed Forces Benefits Association. Arlen's recent work has centered on combining lean six sigma process improvement methods with agile execution to dramatically improve both the speed and quality of business results. He has also led the integration of interaction design and usability practices into agile methodologies, presenting, and training frequently at both industry conferences and to Fortune

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Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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