10 Learnings from LEAN San Francisco

San Fran

There is just no substitute for hearing from the experts and talking to them after their presentations. At Lean Startup 2014 in San Francisco last week there was no shortage of LEAN experts. And one of the really great aspects of the conference was the ease of access to the best LEAN Startup practitioners in the world.

It’s certainly a hot topic and one very interesting aspect of the delegate profiles at LEAN 2014 was the clear swing away from startups towards large enterprises. Many of the presentations and case studies were also enterprise-centric. The general consensus was that while LEAN and corporate culture are somewhat like oil and water, large organizations just have to work out how to exploit LEAN methodologies. 2014 saw further proof that large, complex enterprises are easy targets for disruptive startups.

In my work consulting to companies of all sizes I still find either ignorance of, or resistance to, applying LEAN as a tool to inspire and manage innovative thinking. Most C-level executives appreciate they have to find ways to innovate but they remain highly conservative and sensitive to anything that could negatively impact core operations. Totally understandable in some ways yet to really get the best from their staff and to future-proof their company they need to take risks and be prepared for some failures.

At the LEAN conference many speakers talked about not being scared to fail and ensuring that when that happened the company took time to understand why. In some ways there is almost as much value in failing as succeeding in terms of what is learned. LEAN project teams operating inside an enterprise definitely need strong support from the CEO down and they also need experienced mentors who can guide and support the project. The process of validating-testing-iterating and potentially pivoting, all in the space of a few weeks can be daunting for corporate staff, which is why experienced mentors are so vital.

Here are some of the strong messages I took away from the conference.

1. The scarcest resource on the planet is human attention and it won’t get better any time soon. Lesson: better make every form of communication clear, concise and beneficial to your customers.

2. 80% of failed ventures didn’t Pivot, 65% of successful ventures did pivot, 85% of HUGELY successful startups didn’t Pivot. Lesson: be open-minded about pivoting and have the detailed analytics to support your decision. Every aspect of the LEAN methodology is data-driven, so use that data.

3. When you have done enough testing then build an MAP – Minimum Awesome Product. Lesson: this also relates to the first point, whenever you go out with even a minimalist product be sure you make it awesome.

4. Always test around problem and customer opinions, not your solution. Lesson: kind of obvious if you know LEAN but many projects still start with, “I’d love your opinion on my great new product” as opposed to, “please tell me about the biggest problem/s you experience every day”.

5. Ego-risk is when a Founder or Project Owner ignores reality in the hope that his/her assumptions will be proven right. Lesson: usually occurs when the customer survey/testing part of any project is skipped on the basis that the Founder is a genius and a domain expert.

6. Two questions that kill innovation in enterprises – What’s the RoI ? and When Will I See It ?. Lesson: any truly LEAN project can never answer these questions at the beginning. If these questions must be answered before you get approval then don’t start.

7. Founders have to personally sell every week to continually test and confirm their assumptions. Lesson: Founders and Project Owners can only understand the reality of what they are creating by personally hearing from prospective customers or users.

8. Large enterprises are structured to be easily attacked by startups. Lesson: there are many people in large enterprises who are VERY comfortable and complacent. They are really just the easy targets in 2015.

9. A new product in an established market has to be 9x better to get people to switch. Lesson: also relates to point 1 in that people using a product will have to be just about knocked off their feet with the brilliance of an alternative product before they switch.

10. Don’t stop A/B testing – try and be better EVERY day. Lesson: LEAN never stops and your competitors will figure this out and come after you. Keep innovating and keep ahead of them.

Content created by Greg Twemlow.

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