Book review: The Lean Startup

I have known about the Lean Startup movement for some time now. Everything I read about the subject rang true with me. I’m particularly exposed to it reading HN daily where it’s prevalent and my boss at Allmyapps was a firm believer. It was time for me to actually read the book about it.

The Lean Startup movement was started by Eric Ries who’s also the author of the eponymous book. As with most idea books I read, I found it a bit too long. These books tend to repeat concepts multiple time, explaining things in many paragraphs when a couple would be enough. Perhaps this what’s needed to properly communicate ideas…

Anyway, the book goes on to describe the idea, it’s origin, how to implement it and talks about a few case studies. It’s a very interesting read and it convinced me even more.

The Lean Startup takes it’s inspiration from the Lean Industry where everything is built on-demand. The stated goal is to stop wasteful work by focusing on what the customer really wants. Thus, less guesses and strategy but more experiments. Work should revolve around a Build-Test-Learn feedback loop which should be as quick as possible, speed being a major aspect of a startup. Startups shouldn’t be scared of pivoting, ie. changing course, when their growth is stuck.

I liked how Eric insists on not misinterpreting his idea as something opposed to management. The Lean Startup is a new management method for a world where the classical pyramidal scheme does not work anymore. I can’t tell if the Lean Startup is the way forward but I firmly agree with the precept.

The Five Whys is an interesting concept that I had never heard of before. The goal is to find the root cause of a problem asking your team “why” at each problem like a kid would do. Eric acknowledge the difficulty of putting in place such meetings but is convinced of the effectiveness of this method and explains how it worked well in cases he was involved.

I’m still wondering if the Lean Startup could really be applied to large companies. Eric is convinced that it can and demonstrates it with a few case studies. However, in most examples, it’s a small group inside the company. My doubts arise from the fact that I’m not convinced most employees wants to be involved as much as it is required by such a structure. In the same way, I think most management people will fight these ideas as much as they can.

The Lean Startup asks a lot from individuals. It implies rethinking the whole chain of responsibility as well as asking people to be more humble and respectful of others even in the face of difficulties. While this may be possible in small groups where people are carefully selected, I think it may be too optimistic about human nature to make it work at scale.

When I think how management works in France, we are decades away of even considering using this kind of new methodologies. The US has always been in the forefront in business thinking and I can understand how these ideas could make there way inside big companies. Unfortunately, the prevalent opinion in France is that only elites, having studied in the Grandes Ecoles, are able to manage people and that anybody else is simply an idiot that needs to be told what to do. Good luck explaining to them that they shouldn’t strategies everything.

Overall, I’m convinced this is the best management method (that I know of!) for startups. It allows to build flexible and resilient companies built to satisfy the customers and follow them as things changed.

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