How Have You Applied Lean Startup Principles and Minimum Viable Products?

Jul 9, 2019 -- Posted by : admin

In the last blog post, we talked about strategies for dealing with uncertainty, unpredictability, and risk: acting, experimenting, learning, and adapting. And we asked about more openly experimenting, learning, sharing lessons learned, and accepting failure as an important element of entrepreneurship. Coincidentally, the new acting University of Wyoming president, Neil Theobald, in one of his first communiques, said, “First, know that it is okay to make mistakes. It’s how we learn. I will make my share of mistakes, and I plan to be open about where I go wrong. A spirit of making – and learning from – mistakes will make our University more effective.”

Some concepts in the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries are applications of some of those strategies. Ries was an entrepreneur that subsequently traveled and observed and interviewed entrepreneurs, not just in startups, but also in larger more mature firms, who some refer to as “intrapreneurs.” One of his observations was that entrepreneurs are everywhere.

Ries had some experience with lean systems and manufacturing, originated many decades ago by Japanese firms. He recognized the applicability of many of those concepts and strategies to startups. Some lean system tenets are: · Understand and create value in the customers’ eyes;

  • Observe and truly empathize with customers;
  • Learn what they really need, not necessarily what they say they want;
  • Eliminate waste and reserves;
  • Discover product or process defects or failures as earlier as possible;
  • Shrink batch size;
  • Accelerate cycle times;
  • Use agile development;
  • Deploy just in time production and inventory;
  • Draw on employee knowledge and creativity;
  • Empower them to surface failures and opportunities for improvement; and
  • Form cross functional interdisciplinary teams.

In applying these tenants to startups, Ries advocated: · Go and see for yourself (“genchi gembutsu”);

  • Innovate continuously;
  • Maintain a “backlog” of product or service improvements;
  • Experiment, sooner rather than later;
  • Learn from failure;
  • Discover fatal failures as soon as possible, not after investing significant time and money;
  • Test your hypotheses; and
  • Shrink batch size to one

Many of the other leans tenets above also apply.

The most important concept he advocated was the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is the fastest way to build something with which to measure customer value, learn, pivot, and then iterate to develop a product or services that is valuable in the customer’s eyes. It is a “smart step” within the concept of “Creaction” from Just Start. It’s used for customer discovery. It is the most important process for developing a new product or service. Most important in deploying an MVP is focusing explicitly on what you want to learn from actually taking your product or service to prospective customers. MVP techniques include video, prototype, and concierge (manual behind the scenes) MVPs and many others. Some refer to the last as a “Wizard of Oz” MVP. The energy sourcing platform mentioned in the last blog post was an MVP, created long before the term was invented. We did most of the work populating web pages in our ecommerce auction platform manually. We automated later, after we learned more about what users needed.

Some express quality concerns about deploying a minimal undeveloped product or service as quickly as possible. The response is that quality is defined in the eyes of the customer. You can’t understand quality until get their perspective of value.

Ries also suggest a variety of “pivots” an entrepreneur can make based on customer discovery. They include zoom in/out (narrower or broader scope of value), customer segment or need, channels (retail, wholesale, etc.), platform (computer versus smart phone), and many others.

What have you used for your MVP? What did you want to learn? What discoveries did you make based on early failures? Join the discussion here:


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