17/02/2015

By Cain Ullah, CEO, Red Badger

Lean startup, developed by Eric Ries, is a method for developing businesses and products, helping them to continually innovate and reduce waste in the process. Lean Startup is about delivering fast and effective change (often disruptive) and that change can apply to pretty much anything. The problem is that a lot of people find it difficult to understand and introducing it into an enterprise scale organisation also means coming up against a raft of established ways of thinking and doing.

But Lean Startup is not just about technology and it’s not just about start-ups. The principles of Lean Startup can be applied to help organisations of all shapes and sizes innovate quickly. One of the best things about Lean Startup is its adaptability. Sticking too tightly to set process or script can be as detrimental to having no process at all. Only you know what will work best within your organisation but here are some guidelines for getting new ideas off the ground quickly.

1. What matters most?
At the start of the journey there is usually a challenge of some description and an idea for solving that challenge. The first thing you need to do is identify the elements within that idea for which the least is known, but the most depends, and start with looking at how you can test them. How you choose to do this is up to you but the most important thing is that every element is ranked both for its significance but also how much data you already have on it. The greater the importance and the higher the number of related unknowns, the higher the priority.

2. Start small…
Starting small relates not only to the need to break challenges down into components but also how you test them. In a world obsessed with data there is a tendency to focus on quantity over quality. There is also a tendency to step back away from actions that are ‘leaps of faith’ but these are actually critical here. Let me explain:

When coming up with any new idea the first challenge is trying to identify whether the other people that matter within my organisation think it is a good idea (essentially will I get the backing that I need for my idea to happen). The first assumption I have to make is about who matters. This might seem obvious but it isn’t and I will come to that later. So I make my ‘leap of faith’ and I decide that there are five people who have the ability to significantly impact the success of this idea. My hypothesis is that the majority of them will agree with me (three of the five) and for me to progress I need that hypothesis proven right. This doesn’t require company wide surveys, I don’t need to draft a massive, in-depth proposal, all I actually need to do is simply to ask them.

3. Yes, no, maybe
Another thing that it is important to learn about the application of lean thinking is that there isn’t always a clear-cut answer and in fact that in itself can often be very useful. So perhaps 3 or more of the 5 agree it’s a good idea and we progress to the next stage or 2 or less agree and we ‘pivot’ – meaning we park this component of the idea and we look at something else. However, there are other scenarios: Imagine 2 agree, 2 disagree and 1 doesn’t respond. Is it because actually that person isn’t actually the right person to ask?

Although having such a range of responses may appear to break my hypothesis, it is important not to be too hasty in pivoting. While we can still learn something from the two people who disagreed with the idea, for this issue they may have been the wrong people to ask. We need to explore the reactions of more people similar to the two that were positive. In this case, you iterate with more experiments on the same track rather than pivot.

This is where we return to the point about influencers. Just because someone is senior doesn’t make them relevant or influential in dealing with a specific challenge. A head of sales for example may have no real interest in whether we have a graduate academy to train young talent or not. It doesn’t impact his role and therefore he doesn’t care. This kind of a result says that you might need to look at some of your assumptions around influencers again.

4. Close the loop
Brant Cooper, author of The Lean Entrepreneur refers to the lean loop. The idea is that it is continuous. Whatever the outcome from your first experiment it is unlikely to give you what you need to make a decision on whether to move ahead with your idea. What it will give you however is some key insights and a new set of experiments. The critical thing is that a decision is reached on the test you have done and that decision will inevitably lead to another test. You may have the response you need to move onto the next supposition or you may need to do some more testing to enable that decision to be made. Either way you are back at stage 1.

The big question you are asking yourself all the way through this process is ‘is the testing I am doing giving me the feedback I need to continue to pursue this idea’. This is both art and science because it relies on both information and interpretation. Done correctly it will give you the confidence you need to make fast decisions about the route you are taking and help change to happen more quickly.