Oakland, 1978

Generally, when you purify a process it works better, so a business doctrine that removes excess tends to improve other processes.

“Lean startup” is the hot new thing for those seeking a silver bullet for success, particularly in software-based, web-hosted businesses.

Lean startup is all about doing more with less. Companies that practice lean startup methods stay very close to their customers, iterate rapidly, and are willing–nay, eager–to change their entire business direction. It’s called “pivoting,” and the word “pivot” has become a popular term of art in the startup set.

Lean is appealing because you can do it with very little money. In fact, it’s hard to do lean with money simply because there is little to spend it on.

In particular, there are no layers of management in a lean startup. There are no people whose personal goals are even slightly divergent from the company’s goals.

In lean startups, the “product owner” really is the product owner; it’s not just a job title. It’s impossible to over emphasize the benefits of having an actual owner present to make decisions for the design and development team.

Because lean startup values attentive, rapid response to intelligence, it lends itself extremely well to the principles of goal directed interaction design, agile programming, test-driven development, and continuous integration. It should come as no surprise that the strongest adherents of lean startup are the most dedicated adherents to those new design and development processes.

Interaction design and agile development, when not hindered by obsolete management structures and politically charged organizations, are remarkably powerful. They often seem to be almost magically effective on the rare occasions when they can work unfettered.

The critical things that make for success in any business are time and attention. When you have no money, time and attention is all that is left. Lean startup eliminates almost everything except patience and attentiveness, thus creating a pure, fetter-free zone where practitioners can work without the hindrance of hidden agendas.

Because of the process purification effect, design, development, testing, and deployment methods in a lean startup are extremely effective, and because they are so effective, they appear to be very efficient. This success is not lost on open-minded business people and entrepreneurs, and so the reputation of lean startup is burnished.

By creating a nurturing, supportive environment for the best practices of design and development, lean startup often gets the credit for their power and effectiveness. The challenge is to learn how to create an equally supportive environment inside a mature company.

Originally published on 20 June 2011 on my old blog.

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