I’ve been reading ‘Lean Startups suck. Here are 10 reasons why…’ a blog post by Nick Pelling.
I’m assuming Nick’s post was meant to be controversial to stir up some heated discussion and generate him some traffic – in which case it was a success 🙂
There seems to be a fair bit of misunderstanding about the lean approach. I don’t think anyone should be blind enough to think that using this approach is a guaranteed way to creating a successful business, but what it will do is give you some valuable insights before you’ve invested lots of time, energy and cash. After all, life’s too short to build something nobody wants.
Obviously any new approach or methodology should be taken with some healthy scepticism. However my experience of lean is a positive one, but that’s not to say I follow Eric Ries’ advice to the letter – far from it. We’re a small agency that adopts lean principles in our approach. This involves elements of lean UX, agile development and lean startup methodologies. With any process there needs to be some flexiblity and common sense – taking the elements that work best for you within your business. We find it reduces waste, encourages more collaborative working, closer user involvement and, ultimately, helps to create a more relevant and useful product.
We get approached by lots of entrepreneurs with what they believe are great ideas, but without any validation that these could equate to a successful product. It can be a painful lesson for many that after spending 6 months of their life, a big pot of savings (or funding) and lots of sleepless nights, there’s no demand for what they’ve built (at least in its current state). Often we have to go back to square one to focus on a core, killer feature that will keep people coming back again and again. I understand entrepreneur’s need a strong vision but there needs to be flexibility within this.
I like this description by Justin from Made by Many (a prominent lean agency):
“For what it’s worth, I think the simple power of the lean startup philosophy is as a ‘super validator’. It’s a means of efficiently finding out whether ideas are actually any good. It’s powerful because it sidesteps the ego-centric obsession with ‘coming up with a Big Idea’ and instead encourages a space where ‘small ideas’ can be tested to see whether they actually have the potential to be successful (why is a “big idea” good anyway?). It’s in this creative machine-like capacity as a ‘super validator’ that lean delivers the simultaneous business benefits of efficient opportunity exploitation and risk mitigation. It sounds simple enough, but I can assure you, it isn’t necessarily easy being lean. But of course that’s part of the enjoyment of trying to do things in new ways.”
I think in most cases lean makes good business sense.
As an agency we could take (for many) the traditional approach of designing and/or developing based on a supplied brief or technical spec. But this document is usually based on a variety of assumptions. For new products where there’s some uncertainty, how about replacing requirements with hypotheses?
We could be a mercenary and just take the money and run ie. build this thing without an interest in whether it’s a success or not. Or delve a bit deeper and start asking questions such as ‘why do you want this feature?’, ‘how do you know that people need this service?’, etc. It’s a more disruptive approach (and for that reason, not for everyone) but it ensures that the products we create are in tune with customer’s needs, in turn, benefiting the business.
One company that adopts the lean approach to their businesses is Forward Internet Group (http://www.forward.co.uk) and they seem to be doing pretty well (£120m annual turnover). Also in terms of VCs interest in lean, Fred Wilson, a prominent and highly respected VC in the States is a lean advocate (see http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/09/lean.html).
Anyway, over to you. What are your experiences of lean?