I work for a software ‘startup’ which is inspired by “The Lean Startup” principles, a book on how to grow a successful sustainable business. So why is this such a groundbreaking book to read? Searching for this answer I picked up one of the many copies laying around in the office.
In short, the lean startup principles are based on building a Minimal Valuable Product (MVP) as fast as possible, test your assumptions with actual customers, evaluate on actionable metrics to improve your MVP, and iterate on the entire process.
I will not go into the specific details of the book but I will highlight two aspects that resonated with me: the story of small batches and asking the ‘why’.
The Lean Startup principles originate from the Toyota car manufacturing process. After world war 2 the Japanese car maker couldn’t compete with the mass manufacturing facilities the American car makers created. Trying to survive Toyota optimised their car manufacturing on fast retooling of their equipment. They could deliver a certain type of car in smaller batches and retool quickly to start manufacturing another type of car. This results in a more flexible process reducing the time needed to fix manufacturing problems, and creating the possibility to quickly shift gears when consumer interest changes.
An example by Eric Ries explains in an easy way the power of small batches. Think of sending out 100 magazines to your members. Three steps are needed: you have to put the magazine in the envelope, then put the letter in it, and then seal it. You can think of two approaches: first put in all the magazines, then all the letters and then seal them all. Or the second approach, to complete all the steps for each single envelope at the time. Often the feeling is that the latter approach is slower but it turns out it is the opposite. Think of when you find out that the seal of the envelop is not working. In the first approach you have wasted a lot of time before you find the problem. With the latter approach you will find out immediately.
This was something I had not thought of before. It opened my eyes and I could easily see this working in my job. For example, this week I had to configure some warning messages in combination with parametric rules in a Grasshopper model. What I could have done is first model all warning cases in Grasshopper and then configure it on the front-end. Instead I remember the small batch approach. I went to the entire process from start the end to reduce the amount of unnecessary work done. Because it could have been that the way I created the warning messages in the parametric logic, was incompatibly with the front-end. It saved me a lot of time to nail the first warning message 100% and then move on to the second.
One of the last chapters Eric explains the ‘why’ method to dig deeper in the underlying problem. He stated that with 5 why questions you have reached such a deep level that the problem is clearly visible. Let’s apply this on an everyday problem to make it more clear.
Let’s say you couldn’t get out of bed this morning (that was me this morning ;)). So why was it so difficult to get out of bed? Well because I went to bed very late. So why did you go sleeping at a late time? Because I needed to finish some work for a deadline? Why did you had to do this deadline last evening? Because I started the project way too late. Why did I started to project way too late? I didn’t know it took some much time to complete as I wasn’t aware of the specific requirements. Why wasn’t I aware of the requirements? I forgot to read the outline documents the moment it came in.
You can continue for a little while but I can imagine you see the large potential of such a method. It really digs deeper into the problematic situation and reveals some interesting insides. Hopefully you also see that this method is very flexible and can be used in many cases.
Of course this method is nothing new and fancy but the way it was explained in the book really opened my eyes. It definitely comes in handy at some point. Hopefully you can also apply it in your life!