Lean is an imperfect science, and that’s ok

There has been a lot of debate recently about whether Lean is right for every entrepreneur or not and whether it could steer people in the wrong direction, or keep them focused on building a business.

If you know me or have been following my blog, you probably know that I believe Lean is incredibly valuable. However, I do believe, as with many common debates, taking to either extreme can be detrimental.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions I would give to anyone considering whether or not they should be applying Lean to their startup:

Lean is not easy. I remember after reading The Lean Startup for the first time, I felt like I had all the answers. I thought all I had to do was get out of the building and talk to customers and all of a sudden I would have a billion dollar company. I’m exaggerating a bit. From teaching my Skillshare class and talking to many entrepreneurs it seems many were under the same impression.

In reality, practicing customer development is very hard. It’s hard to find customers to interview. It’s hard to conduct interviews in an effective way. It’s hard to interpret the information you receive through interviews and experiments. Nothing about starting a company is easy.

Lean does not guarantee success. It’s a tool kit you can use to identify, test, and optimize ideas in a time and capital efficient way. It’s harder for some to see the value of “failing less catastrophically” than it is to see the value in “becoming successful overnight,” which Lean, or anything else for that matter, simply cannot offer.

Follow it, but don’t be a slave to it. From practicing lean and speaking with others who have, I’ve found results of customer interviews and experiments are often not cut and dry. Validation can come in shades. You still need to gauge and judge for yourself. And that’s ok. It’s imperfect, but the insights you gain can be incredibly valuable.

Entrepreneurship still requires some risk, creativity, and vision. You don’t need to rely completely on Lean to inform all of your decisions. In fact, you would probably never get anything done if you relied on customer feedback for all of your decisions. In addition, you could probably get all the validation in the world and still fail. Get as much value from Lean as you can.

There’s no magic formula when it comes to starting a company. Every product is slightly different, every customer is slightly different. There are many different variables. It’s like chess. Actually more like poker because you can never be 100% in control. You can’t necessarily just fill out your business model canvas, conduct X number of experiments, and get X validation points and then magically have an awesome business. There’s no exact step by step manual for starting a company like there is for assembling furniture from Ikea.

And that’s ok. It’s still valuable. You don’t have to practice Lean exactly in order for it to be valuable. For newbies, or anyone doing it simply for exercise or learning, I think it’s valuable to follow rigidly. However, for any entrepreneur, some customer development is better than no customer development.

Missed opportunities? The first PandoDaily post I linked to at the start of this post talked about how relying on validation could result in missed opportunities. Personally, all things equal, I will take a startup or an idea with validation over one without validation ten times out of ten. To the contrary opinion, you could probably get all the validation in the world and still fail. I think of Lean as a way to improve chances of success and lessen impact of loss. It very well could lead to missed opportunities — it’s an imperfect science. But that’s ok. It’s still valuable.

Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t need to follow Lean exactly step by step in order to get value from it. In fact, it might be better not to in some cases.
  • While Lean may have some flaws, it’s still be incredibly valuable. It’s a great system for making more informed decisions and increasing your chances of success.
  • sahilz79

    Good stuff Mike – I would add one more point in that lean cannot teach you tenacity than every entrepreneur needs to succeed – that comes from within!

    • MFishbein

      Absolutely! Thanks Sahilz.