Nurturing Lean Startup in the Enterprise

Lean Startup in the Enterprise?

Wow. Lean Startup is really HOT right now. So many new Meetups and conferences and publications and classes and coaches and consultants ready to teach how it’s done. I’m happy to see so many people embrace the concepts, and saddened to see how much of a buzzword “Lean” has become. Similar to Agile, there’s the spirit of the concept (Agile Manifesto) and there’s “going-through-the-motions-agile-with-a-small-a” agile. Writing user stories and doing stand-ups won’t automatically give you the full benefits of Agile. You get the most value when you empower the team and they’re not just going through the motions. Similarly, you can’t apply Lean Startup to any project with any team in any situation and expect to get good results.

We’re reached an inflection point. The Lean Startup movement is passing from a small group of passionate early adopters to the mainstream audience who will metabolize and adapt these practices until they are no longer new and turn into “the way things are done.” We still have the opportunity to share the spirit of Lean Startup and not just teach people to go through the motions. Working in Build-Measure-Learn cycles requires a fundamental change in they way people think and work. Lean Startup changes the way decisions are made in the organization. We value evidence over personal opinion, learning from customers over collecting requirements and build products people actually want. HiPPO won’t let go easily.

I do sincerely believe that Lean Startup is a profoundly different way to work that brings together the best ideas about how digital products are made.  Let’s not blow it.  Here’s my plea to everyone out there speaking and coaching and teaching Lean Startup in the enterprise–help people understand and embrace the philosophy of Lean Startup and not just master the motions.  If we don’t get this right, we run the risk that people will turn away in frustration and miss the benefits that Lean Startup can offer (We tried Baseball and it Didn’t Work).

Common misconceptions about enterprise Lean Startup

Lean Startup is (NOT!) appropriate for all projects.

Lean Startup helps you succeed in a situations of uncertainty– were there’s an unknown market and an unknown solution. If you are refactoring an existing system with an understood audience and a lot of system dependencies, you don’t need Lean Startup, classic Agile is a great approach.

Lean Startup will (NOT!) help you build the product in your head FASTER or CHEAPER.

Don’t burden the team with requirements to deliver specific features or profitability too early in the process. Create a culture that allows experimentation and celebrates failure. Find ways to measure LEARNING and channel it into the EVOLUTION of your product and process. Find product/market fit and make sure you have a identified a problem worth solving and there’s a market for it before you scale up.

An entrepreneurial environment in the enterprise

Give your Lean Startup team the best possible chance for success by creating an entrepreneurial environment inside the enterprise.

Small team with cross-functional skills. People with skills in development, product management & design form the core team (hacker, hustler & hipster). Keep the core team small to maximize collaboration and minimize communication overhead. Support the core with access to subject matter experts who can provide domain expertise and feedback.  As the project grows, add team members with appropriate specialties (e.g. content creation, specialized design and development resources)

Focus. Dedicate the team members for the duration of the project. Team members cannot be doing this part time alongside their other responsibilities. Get the group away from their normal distractions. Move desks so they can sit together. Dedicate a conference room as a project room. Rent them a garage or off-site space.

Embrace an experimental approach. State your hypothesis & recognize assumptions. Be evidence based and determine clear measures to pivot or persevere. This can be hard if there’s a power-over dynamic in the team. Abolish the HiPPO. Good ideas can come from anywhere. There is no truth until the product is delivered to users and validated with satisfaction and revenue.

Fast build-measure-learn cycles. Use just in time design and agile development methods to define, build, deploy, validate and measure continuously. 1-2 weeks “sprint” per experiment is ideal. (For ideas, see “Conversation, Cadence and Culture“)

Frequent interaction with real/actual end users. Don’t just talk to subject matter experts or economic buyers. Continual customer engagement is the engine that drives validation of the evolving product.

Many small experiments. Lean Startup projects in the enterprise can be short (few weeks/month) or longer (several months). An initiative can be as small as one team or several teams in parallel working on related ideas. One way to kick things off is to hold an initial week-long workshop where teams work on different ideas (like a hackathon in the enterprise). A the end the teams present to each other (or the entire company) and the most viable ideas are selected for deeper/longer investigation and development.

Thanks for reading through to the end. Please let me know about YOUR experiences with Lean Startup in the enterprise in the comments below.

3 Responses to “Nurturing Lean Startup in the Enterprise”

  1. Jason writes:

    Thanks for your timely article.. I’m preparing a presentation for my local IIBA chapter. While Agile is accepted in enterprise environments, even it’s still a ‘work-in-progress.’ I’m trying to figure out a way for our BA’s (business analysis) to look ahead, see how ‘Lean’ can be used to (build-measure-learn) or just outright LEARN faster. We should have diverse ‘transferable skill-sets’ to help us be more adaptable. http://www.slideshare.net/holmanjason/the-role-of-ba-in-startups-25382925

  2. Alexa writes:

    Focus is absolutely crucial. In my experience, that is the biggest hurdle to overcome in the enterprise. It seems the key to achieving that is short sprints (as you say 1-2 weeks). The faster you show some clear signal (good or bad), the faster everyone can rally around the process. If you don’t have focus, you can’t find signal.

  3. Alexa writes:

    PS I love the find them a garage idea. I hope this takes off:)

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