SEL 3 Lean Startup

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I have picked up the lovely book by Eric Reis from a discount table at my local bookstore. The two crucial words in its title attracted me. The word LEAN which still resonates in my head after all the business classes I attended as a recent sophomore in Computer Science. The word Startup lured me with the soothing promise of liberation from corporate 9-5 and distant scent of sweet venture capital. Without much thought I had picked up the book and made my way to the counter. It was late afternoon after work and I had no particular plans for the evening so I decided to dedicate most of my evening to the title. Acompanied by the last rays of the setting sun and a handy cup of coffee I began my reading session.

Has the promise of conrete knowledge on how to conceive and lead a successful startup been delivered? Was the read enjoyable? Did the boisterous colours of the front cover engulf the ideas I have sought?

For the most part it did.

1. Vision

The title may mislead some people as to whom the book is addressed. The word startup suggests a garage level enterprise of a few college kids. Author dedicates intensive effort to clear up this misconception. He proposes to define the term as:

A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

The above definition of the startup allows the author to broaden the scope of the book to management of internal corporte projects, as well as any other managerial efforts. The book conducts its narrative in a peculiar manner. The parables drawn directly from authors own experience as the CTO of the IMVU and countless other startups and projects (spanning from corporate accounting products, more or less famous startups, to even shoe retailer). This form of presentation allows the author to illustrate his principles in a credible and relatable fashion. Some readers (as I initially did) may find this strucure of presentation to be a little unnerving, however in the later chapters author sates even the most impatient readers with aboundance of model and concrete advice on driving a successful project and company.

2. Strategy

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As to the ideas themselves author is a strong proponent of LEAN managment philosophy, drawing parallels from the japanese automotive giant Toyota and translating them into modern digital age. This translation is however a very productive one. The author lays his principles precisely and advocates for a particular methods for driving the success of a company.

The core principle of the proposed management is as follows:

Reduce waste

Waste can be understood in this context as all the human actions and efforts within the framework of the company that drive the project away from sustainability. The process of waste reduction is a theme that premeates vast majority of the work and rightly so as it spawns many interesting insights into the machinations of project management.

Author provides and describes a broad toolset for dealing with and reducing waste. A reader will be quickly introduced to mental models of a startup and how each part of the model shapes and interacts with each other.

vsp-pyramid

The author proposes that at the core of each entreprise is a vision. This vision is the underlying cornerstone of all the processes within the startup and should evolve and attune itself to the market and most importantly the customer.

Startegy is seen as implementation of the vision into concrete etreprenual structure. This includes business model, perceived target audience and potential areas of expansion.

Products are the results of implementation of the the startegy, delivered to the customers.

As you may have noticed in the diagram the author points out two processes for adjusting the strategy and product. pivoting is the adjustment of the strategy to the market, to achieve greater business sustainability. Optimization is the process of developing and changing the product to fit with the strategy.

Author presents a clean and simple feedback loop to explain how the mental engine of the entreprise should be maintained

build-measure-learn

Build - Measure - Learn

The advocates of the data driven decision making will be pleased with such approach and I myself as a systems engineer am very fond of introducing feedback loops to non-technical management processes. The core model of movement of ideas in the company shapes the whole of the work. Chapters and section bring up various implementations of the process in regards to managing teams, evaluating customer needs, resolving crisises, achieving accountability, growing a sustainable products and breaking mental obstacles when faced with unsatisfactory or unexpected results.

3. Product

The book is a light read. In under 300 pages author delivers abundance of anecdotes, ideas, real life examples and principle. The book is structured in 12 chapters, which despite having a linear structure often cross-reference each other as often happens in a rich self-contained systems. The book is an excellent learning supplement for anybody interested in the LEAD or Kanban methodologies, as it introduces the reader to many of its key terms, including much of its japanese vocabulary such as: genchi genbutsu andon cord or shusa. The author incorporates many of the ideas that overlap with the Agile methodology including small batch releases and continuous delivery as the favoured ways of delovering the product.

The author has also done a great deed and included a glossary and the list of recommedations for further reading. This adds additional value to the book, as it allows more inquisitive readers to revise the acquired information or seek further inspiration for managing their entreprises.

To me presonally as a software engineer the book was essential in understanding some of the restrictions and reponsibilities that the managment tried to implement in my work. The author sympathises with a developer who just wants to implement fetures and solve bugs and does not want to spend hours on various meetings or planning sessions. The book will surely provide such specimen with a more holistic perspective on software development, and maybe create an element of understanding for some of the “hardships” imposed by the management.

4. Verdict

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I rate it 4 failed startups out of 5. A good weekend read. Much more up to date than most of the classic manement title such as “Mythical Man Month”.

The people I would recommend the book to

  • People in management postions looking for mental models of improving processes at workplace
  • LEAN enthusiasts who want to contextualise their theoretical knowledge
  • Programmers who seek to understand their managers’ actions
  • Entrepreneurial spirits

The people I would advise to steer away from the book

  • People allergic to parables
  • People hostile to agile approaches in business
  • Programmers hoping for strictly technical / architectural advice

I sincerely hope you enjoyed the article,

Cheers,

Jan