Lean Startup Method: Destroying Dreams in Favor of Reality
All creators have very sensitive and vulnerable souls. They realize that the society and business appreciate them due to their ability to evoke something from nowhere.
Their imaginary power capable of creating new products, services, and ideas makes them both proud of and greedy for their creations.
The hypothetical desirable products residing inside the creator's mind (or even in the prospective business plans) constitute a very fragile mental structure imbued with the creators’ biases in most cases.
Weeks and months spent for forming new business ideas contain a lot of spiritual energy of their authors.
How is it possible to abandon the “dear mental child” offering it to the strangers (i.e. potential customers) who can criticize, excoriate, and even scoff at such a painstakingly crafted project?
The personification of such a narcissistic approach is probably those huge archives of the Patent Office overfilled with a great number of inventions having nothing tied to the real world.
Many magnificent gadgets and technologies would remain unimplemented because their inventors neglected to go outside and learn the views of customers and users.
Any product without buyers always fails. Isn’t that what happens to those failed startups that constitute 75% of all new emerging business projects?
It seems, the very ignorance of the actual needs of potential customers leads the majority of new businesses to the aforementioned heavy losses.
It turns out that the traditional approach to project development involving a linear sequence of steps (such as writing a business plan, inviting investors, assembling a team, representing a product, and striving the sells) is obsolete and prohibitively inefficient.
At least, that belief is strong among those progressive thinkers and practitioners who promote a different and gaining popularity approach called the “lean customer development” or “lean startup”.
A little bit of history
Although this approach is undoubtedly innovative, it can hardly be called green or immature.
The true guru and the most famous popularizer of the “lean startup” Steve Blank has been advocating the method since 2003 when his first comprehensive work “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” was published.
In 2010 Alexander Osterwalder offered the so-called business model canvases – a framework for entrepreneurs which operates within the customer development paradigm.
The main lean techniques were summarized by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf in “The Startup Owner’s Manual” published in 2012. Besides, “Lean Customer Development” by Cindy Alvarez published in 2014 is also worth mentioning.
More than 25 universities along with a super-popular online Udacity.com included the lean startup method in their curriculum.
“Errare humanum est”
The Silicon Valley startupers are the ones who appreciate the approach at best even though the lean customer development is also suitable for big corporations and mature businesses.
Steve Blank proved it describing how GE successfully implemented the lean method when their new battery production was established.
In essence, the lean approach comes down to reforming any project development in accordance with the agile principles well known among software development companies.
A linear agenda of project development is changed for numerous iterations repeatedly circulating when MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is adjusted to comply the requirements and expectations of the customers.
It means quite brutal practice towards the developers since their assumptions and hypothesis regarding a product can be crucially altered, pivoted, and even destroyed by the actual needs of the product’s users.
In fact, nothing revolutionary new appears with the lean approach since two popular aphorisms lay at its core: “the end justifies the means” and “errare humanum est” (humans are fallible).
No matter how brilliant the presumable features of a product seem to the developers - the customers’ feedback and requirements must prevail.
The lean approach changes the very mode of the project development from static (a business plan) to dynamic (evolution of MVP).
The continuous collaboration with customers makes developers reconsider the entire workflow. It does not mean everybody must leave an office and go outside to meet potential customers.
The particular lean technique depends on both the peculiarities of a project and the ingenuity of the developers. Sometimes the mere project environment suggests developers what methods of customer development can be applied, sometimes intuition does the same.
When developers become deeply conscious of the core idea of the lean startup, practical solutions happen naturally oftentimes.
Just take a look at how gracefully the developers of the District Network implemented the lean principles to their users’ engagement.
They established a Slack community inviting everyone to join the Community Advisor Program. Instead of guessing about the features appropriate and attractive for their platform’s users they propose the community to become their advisers.
And just the ambitious “I-was-the-first-who-joined” idea works! Of course, the guys from District0x are deeply immersed into the so-called network effect since they circulate among the most progressive blockchain startups.
Probably that was their gut feeling that allowed to shift the decision making process from themselves to the crowd wisdom. In any case, we can see the actual “how to” practice where the lean startup methodology is unfolding in real time.
Can corporations grasp the Lean startup too?
Whereas District0x is a startup by nature, the lean approach can easily be implemented there, as some may note arguing that many conventional businesses will face problems having no such digital incentives.
It can be partially true unless successful corporate examples are available. Along with the already mentioned GE case, Bosch Classic Cars project reflects how well the lean customer development can work in the corporate sector.
Robert Bosch created a special web platform catering quite a big community (about 19.000 members) of the German old cars’ fans.
The platform allows the community members to communicate within the online environment specially developed for the vintage-car enthusiasts who use Bosch services and buy Bosch-made spare parts on a regular basis.
It looks like a pocket-size Facebook (on the scale of such a giant as Bosch, of course) – the narrow-specialized social media for Bosch customers.
Being a part of the notorious digital transformation performed by Bosch, the platform provides the corporation with the invaluable information about everything important for the “motor guys”.
“Why assume when we can get first-hand information” - was probably the epiphany of those Bosch executives who were looking for a method of how to get the original feedback from a huge audience of Bosch clients.
Bosch is far from being a startup, but the Bosch Classic Car web portal obviously meets both the network effect and crowd wisdom inherent in the lean startup paradigm.
Fewer failures make sense
Despite the over-enthusiastic opinion of many adherents the lean customer development does not guarantee that any single project practicing the lean startup will win in any case.
The pragmatic business approach suggests that the success can hardly depend on some particular fitting-to-all magic. This is about fewer failures rather than a guaranteed success.
The relevant remark of Steve Blank is worth citing here: “Using lean methods across a portfolio of startups will result in fewer failures than using traditional methods”.
Basing on our own experience, Indeema Software can claim that any company will have to attempt quite significant extra efforts for numerous MVP iterations along with the appropriate agile development when the lean startup is implemented.
At the same time, we affirm that the lean approach obviously helps to grasp the customers’ requirements more comprehensively. Whether this can result in creating more demanded and successful products is only you to decide.
Nevertheless, we strongly recommend you to try.
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