Lean Startup Is Continuous Improvement of Value Discovery

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I love the Lean Startup. Our language in the Lean-Agile community was enriched significantly with the introduction of concepts such as minimum viable products, pivots, lean experiments, validated learning, and vanity metrics.

Entrepreneurship is just another form of management.

Steve Blank, Eric Ries, and the other brilliant minds behind the Lean Startup method have done us an excellent service explaining that entrepreneurship is just another form of management. Most management books (including many in the Lean-Agile category) are written for companies with existing products and services that need to improve their value delivery and quality. The Lean Startup book, however, was written for businesses creating new products and services in need of better value discovery and learning.

On the Exploration/Execution Curve, you can see that the Lean Startup method applies to the entire business lifecycle because exploration never stops! Of course, the search for new products and services is the primary job of young businesses in the early stages (1 to 5) of their lifecycle. However, innovation must be continuous. When a business model matures, and its type of innovation gradually changes from disruptive to sustaining (stages 6 to 10), there is still a need to explore new customers needs, new ideas, and new features. Only the business will spend more time executing than exploring.

One of the critical insights of lean thinking (in general) is that new management techniques are needed under conditions of uncertainty. With Lean Manufacturing and Lean Development, we learned how to change our ways of working while executing an existing business model. We learned about value streams, managing flow, small batches and queues, removal of waste, just-in-time delivery, building quality in, cross-functional teams, and end-to-end responsibility. All of this is needed for the continuous improvement of value delivery.

Well, guess what? The same lean principles apply when you want continuous improvement of value discovery.

The same lean principles apply when you want continuous improvement of value discovery.

Traditional management tools and modern Lean-Agile methods and practices assume that customers already exist, and quality is already defined. None of these tools deal with the exploration part of the Exploration/Execution Curve. The only difference between traditional tools and Lean-Agile tools is the level of uncertainty that they deal with. Traditional tools, such as business plans, product roadmaps, and milestones, are all about execution in a stable environment. Modern Lean-Agile practices, such as product backlogs, timeboxes, and continuous flow, are about improving performance in uncertain environments. Either way, they are all about execution and delivery to existing customers at known quality levels.

Continuous innovation is an unpredictable adventure, but that doesn’t mean you cannot manage it. You just need to complement continuous improvement of execution with continuous improvement of exploration. That means having experiment streams, managing flow, small batches and queues, removal of waste, just-in-time discovery, building learning in, cross-functional teams, and end-to-end responsibility. Do you see? Lean Startup is almost the same as Lean Manufacturing and Lean Development; only we apply lean principles to experiments rather than features. And then, we get validated learning on top of validated quality.

P.s. The only thing I don’t like about Lean Startup is the Build-Measure-Learn picture because it ignores half of the essential work. You can read my Innovation Vortex article if you want to learn about a better visualization.

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