The New York Times had a very interesting article about the new trend of lean start-ups, (“The Rise of the Fleet-Footed Start-Up“, April 2010).
The article describes, what several entrepreneurs believe is a better way to build start-ups, one that takes less time and money to try new ideas and find paying customers:
“So the lean playbook advises quick development of a “minimum viable product,” designed with the smallest set of features that will please some group of customers. Then, the start-up should continually experiment by tweaking its offering, seeing how the market responds and changing the product accordingly. Facebook, the giant social network, grew that way, starting with simple messaging services and then adding other features. The goal, explains Mr. Blank, is to accelerate the pace of learning. “A start-up is a temporary organization designed to discover a profitable, scalable business model,” he says.
While most people take from “lean operations” the ideas of just-in-time and small and frequent improvements of the work environment, it seems that the author and the people he interviewed really understand the core ideas behind lean operations and their subtlety.
The approach discussed in the article is also the one emphasized by Steve Spear in his book “Chasing the Rabbit”. There, he describes high-velocity organizations, as ones that treat each problem, each instance of something not working out the way they expected it to, as the voice of the operation itself and using it to improve and learn something about their operations and their customers.
Interestingly, while the article clearly uses the definition of lean from the Toyota “Textbook” (where lean operations is defined as “a business system for organizing and managing product development, operations, suppliers, and customer relations that requires less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products with fewer defects to precise customer desires”), the name Toyota is not even being mentioned in the article. Sic transit gloria mundi.
The main issues I see is: the lean operations paradigm is about myopia and quick improvement, which are based on local priorities. Is that necessarily the best method to build start-ups? Is it the case maybe that this paradigm is more appropriate for Internet based ones and may not fit others? The same way that lean is not the one-size-fits-all solution in manufacturing, it probably does not fit all start-ups, but will we see now a trend following these several success stories?