Lean… startup? enterprise? Just use your head

Giff Constable lean

Andreas Klinger recently wrote an article that made some rounds in the lean startup circle entitled “why lean startup sucks for startups.”

Putting the attention-grabbing headline aside, I found much of the piece rather bizarre.

Is lean startup different for startups?

Yes and no. Hoping for a detailed playbook is lazy, naive thinking.

Lean, going back to the Toyota system, is about reducing waste. One of the key tenets of lean startup is that you can reduce waste through learning and experiments. That’s a truism regardless of whether you are solo founder or a large company.

You want to think in terms of “minimally viable everything”. That does NOT mean zeroing out risk, which cannot be done without huge amounts of waste.

The “validation” needs of a company are very different depending on whether it is at founding, pre-product-market-fit, post-product-market-fit, at scale, and in a re-invention stage. And within a company, your approach should differ depending on whether you are doing sustaining or disruptive innovation.

At every single step in the process, you want to focus on creating good outcomes with a little waste and as much insight as is reasonable.

Do I think about lean differently if I compare my startup work versus the work I’m doing creating a new product/business for an enterprise company?

Not in the weeds, no.

In both situations, I’ve got a vision. I’ve got a set of resources (people, money, partners, IP, etc). I’ve got some kind of timeline based on those resource constraints and how I use those resources. I’ve got a need to convince others about the opportunity (recruits, partners, financial backers). I’ve got a need to get the formula right across customer, product and business model.

The TACTICS might vary, but then the tactics vary between every project, startup or no.

On “lean startup” being swamped by enterprise consultants

First, it is a good thing that lean is finding its way into the enterprise, because new product creation is fundamentally broken in most large companies.

Second, regarding consulting — this was an inevitability.

Andreas quotes Bjoern Herrmann as saying, “Lean Startup tends to attract people who like to be told what they should do next. And people who like to teach people that process for money.”

Replace “lean startup” with “everything” and you have it right.

The fact that bullshit happens in the world doesn’t affect a startup founder, or anyone else with a good head on their shoulders.

We don’t need to be entirely cynical about it. There are well-meaning people out there who fell in love with lean startup ideas and love teaching it. The economic realities are such that they make their money from bigger companies, which then subsidizes their ability to teach more and give back to the startup community.

Personally, I’m doing enterprise work right now because it’s an interesting challenge, and it was only fair to my wife to give her a breather from a startup husband/father. Of course, I don’t think of myself as a “lean” person, but rather a creator, a maker.

I didn’t attend Eric Ries’ conference this year but heard that there were a lot of agile consultants there who want to add “lean startup” to their repertoire. Can you blame them? After all, as Bill Scott likes to say, lean gives agile a brain. No one likes working on something that doesn’t matter. We’re probably going to start seeing absurdities like certification programs, and nonsense-religion just as it happened in the agile world, but all that can be ignored.

As a startup founder, who cares! You are too busy trying to make the most of your window before the sky falls. Take the good ideas from lean, and everywhere else.

What is wrong with lean startup today?

Andreas writes, “In it’s current form [lean startup] fits best to enterprise.”

Obviously I think this statement is absurd, even if I agree that there is more noise and shallow thinking in the community than before. However, if you are incapable of thinking independently and rigorously, then you are probably not fit to be a startup founder anyway.

But what a number of us have been talking about in NYC is the fact that “lean startup” as a movement doesn’t seem to be pushing itself forward.

The most interesting ideas are coming from mashing up lean startup with other thoughts and processes. Which, if you think about it, is exactly what Eric did when packaging up “lean startup” as a catch phrase in the first place.

In the end, the labels don’t matter a whit. It’s the principles that matter, and how you decide to implement them.