Is The Lean Startup a Disrupter or Savior for the Lean Enterprise


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I see statements from the Lean StartupTM folks that The Lean Startup is changing everything. I think that is rather silly because it is not The Lean Startup that is causing the change. The Lean Startup is just adapting to the way the world is changing.

Lean works well for groups that do not rely on an external environment to function, ones that can be self-reflective and internally focused on improvement. However, that business model is getting smaller and smaller. The rapid expansion of knowledge is decreasing the advantages of past proprietary offerings in product/service and in operations. What is left is a complex web of internal and external activities that I use Service Dominant Logic to describe.

If we have learned anything from The Lean Startup, it should be Steve Blank’s mantra of “Get out of the Building” has surpassed the outdated Voice of Customer Model. The instrument of Gemba Walks should no longer be only thought of as an internal practice on the shop floor, rather an external practice at the customer point of use of your product/service offering, not at the point of transaction. Customers are now being redefined as users. It is in this concept that we must build our structure around, reaching out past the user to find new synergies, new connections at the fringes which will result in new ways to create value.

Hoshin Kanri is the traditional Lean practice for building strategy and vision. It is a Lean Leadership tool for communication. What fails is the faulty assumption that we can still rely on data gathering and Voice of Customer techniques. It is not the concept of Voice of Customer rather the tools we use to gather this information. Surveys and Focus Groups need to be replaced with senior leadership actively participating with client-facing techniques that resemble a good old-fashioned discussion. Discussions of this sort lead to discovery. Ask any Lean Startup that has tried a Problem Interview or a Solution Interview. For a description of a Lean Startup interview process, I recommend Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean

Lean needs to adapt its thinking and seek new ways to engage the users in their learning cycles. The methods of SDCA-PDCA-EDCA are well suited for this new environment. The practice of Hoshin Kanri lends itself for adaption of this new thinking throughout the organization. However, it will take a change in thinking of many established Lean Enterprises and Organizations if Lean is to continue to flourish.

Other process methodologies of the 90s are floundering; Lean is flourishing because it has been the most adaptable. It has spread to many disciplines through an internal focus on improvement. However, it may be ripe for disruption as the external forces of the marketplace take hold. Will the Lean Startup be an instrument of disruption or a savior for its Lean counterpart?

P.S. This blog post is an extension of my recent posts, Is Lean Playing to Win? Part 1 of 2 and Is Lean Playing to Win? Part 2 of 2. The posts are my reactions to this LinkedIn thread, What do we have to do to have Lean survive a leadership change?,

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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