Four Things I Learned From Eric Ries of the Lean Startup Movement

Last year, I was blown away by The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

It was the top read of the year for me, and the most impactful book on my business life since Good To Great.  Why? Because the Lean Methadology changes the game, whether you are a startup or a big-old-company.  

When you are Lean, you interact with customers from the get go, pivot until you find that nuts-crazy-busy product/market fit.  Then you learn how to cycle through the process faster and faster over time.  This way, you build products and processes people really want, and eliminate most of all waste from the system.  Whew.  That’s the kernel of the book, basically.  

This Monday, Eric was in LA for a fireside chat at a LeanLA/StartupUCLA event.  He talked for an hour about the book, took some questions and I had a chance to meet him as well.  Here’s what I learned: 

1. Failure Is A Chance To Learn – He believes that successful companies have many little failures that add up to verified learning and market intelligence.  The reason you need to have the courage to launch your ‘minimum viable‘ product, is so you can prove your assumptions wrong (or just maybe, right!).  The longer you stay stealth, whiteboarding out the future, the longer it takes you to LEARN.

2. Conduct Scheduled Pivot-Or-Persevere Meetings – He suggested every 8 weeks for startups.  In this meeting, you analyze what is working or failing and consider making radical changes to the business.  Sounds scary, but here’s his twist: If they are regular, then the employees don’t freak out when you have one of these meetings! This way, between meetings, everyone is measuring what matters, in anticpation of the next Pivot-Or-Persevere summit. 

3. Culture Springs Up From Your Processes – This is a new spin of what I’ve always thought (culture is a conversation about how things are done around here).  His point is that we create explicit and tacit processes at work, and through repition, they create our opearting system down to the individual leader.  How we react. You can’t ‘create a good culture’ he says, you design and manage processes with your values in mind. A strong culture ensues.

4. First, Do The Standard Work – Eric is deeply influenced by the Japanese Lean movement for manufacturing and specically by The Toyota Production system, an obsure book by Taiichi Ohno. One of the most profound points of the book is that we must understand the standard work first, before we can customize it.  Standardization is only bad when we are locked into processes in the face of adversity (pivot!).  

I could see the people in the crowd react to this viscerally.  We live in a world where no one wants to master the fundamentals, instead, they want to innovate from day one.  But what Eric points out is that the innovators of history from Miles Davis to Steve Jobs first and foremost, understood and practiced the Standard, so as to have a real foundation to build upon. 

If you haven’t already, read The Lean Startup

Read the transcript of Eric Ries talking about Taiichi Ohno.