Lean Thinking Makes Ideas Possible

Introduction

Recently, I began reading “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries (which I recently mentioned in an article).  I am making progress with the book, but already I feel myself thinking differently.  In the book, Ries discusses the process of lean thinking and how it should be applied when developing a startup.  In order to make sense of this lean thinking methodology, one needs to understand first what a startup is based upon the definition Ries gives it in his book.  According to Ries, “A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”  This definition really interested me, partly because it can even apply to large enterprises looking to develop a new product or service.

Applying Lean Thinking

After learning a little about lean thinking through reading this book, I became interested in learning even more about it by seeing what the internet had to offer.  I began searching to learn more about lean thinking and found some interesting examples and descriptions.  There was definitely some good information out there, but still nothing compared to what Ries discussed throughout his book.  There is a process that goes with lean thinking, but I guess a simplified way of looking at it could be:

  • Having an idea
  • Developing assumptions
  • Idea validation
  • Creating an MVP (Minimum-Viable-Product)
  • Testing the MVP
  • Adapting to meet the biggest needs of customers
  • Developing a final product

Some people may disagree and think that this simplified way of looking at lean thinking is incorrect, but visualizing lean thinking in this light has helped me to quickly understand what Ries was beginning to touch upon at the start of his book.  It truly makes sense to take an idea that you have and then develop some assumptions around it (since market research is really only an option if there is certainty surrounding an idea).  Then comes idea validation, which helps to see if 1. Your assumptions were correct or 2. Your assumptions were off and need to change.  Next, comes the creation of the MVP which is essentially a product or service that can be created in an almost “bare-bone minimum” capacity.  This product or service is meant to be changed several times to adapt to what customers are truly looking for.  A series of tests will surround the MVP and negative feedback is okay – as long as it is used to improve upon the product or service.  It is important when utilizing lean thinking to remember that this process is great because it can often save money and time – instead of just jumping into business with an idea that you personally think is good (idea validation is key).  One of the next steps in the process is to take a look at the needs of customers and develop a “final” product or service that you know they will use (final is a very open term here since it is likely that the product or service would have many more revisions over the course of time).

Examples of Lean Thinking (Lean Startup Model)

A good example of lean thinking is Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg executed a perfect lean mindset when developing Facebook.  A timeline of the steps that he took could possibly look like this:

  • Zuckerberg noticed a need for online-social interaction amongst people and college campuses
  • He developed an MVP that was very simple and did not have too many features (aka “the profile page”)
  • Some people became early adopters of it (a few college campuses)
  • The platform was tested by many users and quickly became popular (it began going viral)
  • Zuckerberg and company continued to make adjusts to the site and continue to do so today to meet the needs of their user base

The example above is essentially a quick timeline of how I believe Facebook utilized a lean way of thinking when it came to developing the platform.  One of the biggest benefits of lean thinking is that there is often less risk versus just running with an idea with minimal or no validation.  Listen to your users or customers, as I mentioned before – validation is key!

Conclusion

It is clear that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the lean startup (lean thinking) methodology, but I will say that the more that I discuss this mindset with people, the more I love it.  I think every entrepreneur or business should take a look at applying this mindset because of how powerful it can be.  Since I began utilizing a more lean way of thinking, my creativity has skyrocketed.  Ideas that I might have brushed off in the past began to become more of a reality if I were to use a lean approach.  Definitely pick up a copy of “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries (if you haven’t already done so) and begin utilizing the lean mindset today!

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