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Lean Startup

January 3, 2013

The Lean Startup methodology will disrupt Agile

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The Lean StartupSome people think Agile has lived and will soon decay and disappear.

Some people think Agile has lived and post-Agile is coming.

Some other people think Agile is just not part of the answer any companies out there need to hear and that its benefits have always been a chimera. There are a lot of other points of view regarding Agile, where it has come from, what it is good at and for, what it is in the first place, and what it will be when it is no more…

The truth is, nobody has a clue, but everyone is fighting for a piece of the marketing cake that Agile has become, and in this war, being different counts, being controversial counts, because this gives you a chance to be louder and maybe heard by more people. In that respect, we hear a lot of rubbish about Agile these days, and a lot of things and people are “sold” under the term, often with very little alignment to the Manifesto… shame really, but maybe this is normal and just the sign that something has been missing from the start.

My personal take on Agile is that its unique marketing segment will be – and maybe even quite fast! – taken over effortlessly by the Lean Startup movement.

The philosophy, the sense of urgency, the goals and potential rewards behind the “Lean Startup” have been – and still are –  brilliantly packaged and sold by Eric Ries. It is also a fact that in order to validate learning, companies will need mechanisms to generate testable solutions – not only software – faster, and detain the capacity to evolve that solution based on validation and pivot decisions.

In the Lean Startup model, everyone has their place, every existing employee has a chance to contribute, and the dogma – true or perceived – of Agile somewhat fades away, and only remains the true pragmatism of getting something of value delivered as often as possible. Some of the concepts that can be hard to understand when looked at from the Agile side of things make complete sense from the Lean Startup angle (like getting a potentially shippable product ready at very frequent interval, like setting a goal for an iteration or a sprint, like getting tests in place, like understanding the potential value of delivering a feature versus another one, the importance of feedback and collocation: in short all this principles that make the practices essential).

I do believe Agile will soon disappear, I also believe that WHAT this term was created FOR is still very much alive, that it will live on, and that it will spread through many old school businesses as part of their implementing a Lean Startup approach to better manage their investment (probably a future blog on PMOs managing budget as investment funds and how Lean Startup can help).

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  1. There is this fundamental, to me perceived as a western-culture-focused, shift from something to something. The something we came from is not agile – the where we head to is agile. Lean Startup requires quite some agility. The something where things had to be thought through for ages before something was deemed to be interesting enough to start thinking about concrete pre-planning efforts, that has to change. But dressing this old something with a shield and a sword while there is noone in the knight’s armor does not seem right either.

    The much I admire x²-curves of ROI or shareholder value, the little I like the abscense of focus on individuals, people and customers. Maybe it’s sufficient to dive jointly after the business value / customer delight and everything else will neatly align and find a place to sit.

    But Lean Startup is to me not a “replacement” or overtaking. Lean Startup might be (as I just know what you wrote, what someone told me about it and what I read on wikipedia) the next step, but it’s a stair where you somehow are inable to leave a step out. If you don’t get what agile means in my view, then you can bin your efforts on trying the Lean Startup concept.

    The values, which are required in my view to get from where we as a western-culture are (sorry, XXXL is the only size I sell tonight) to where we maybe should be (Steve Denning’s famous “Customer Delightment”) requires the recognition that we as people and individuals interact with people and individuals. We do not sell a good which we produced to a purse on legs. Maybe sometimes, in larger companies the distance between the team – product – purse on legs is too large to even remember that there is a purse running around (and even beyond that point that this purse is a 52 year old woman with two kids in the age of 11 and 28 at home, the 28 year old one being a student of German philology. Her name is Liane Boisot).

    While Lean Startup seems to focus very much on the customer’s need and on as little money spend as possible etc. it also reminds me of the inability of us being able to steer larger organisation. I also believe that Lean Startup takes some things for granted on the human side, if you just focus on what’s written in wikipedia, which currently does not match the social environment we have.

    Living and dying for the company without work life balance and basically working for free is how I perceive some of the startups I had the chance to visit in the last years. Dozens of young people with parents being their only close family, as there are no kids; god no – I would never marry her, I know her only since 16 years and I am still below 40 so why should I. Or others who get divorced and start living the funny life of patchwork family. Yes these Lean Startups are lean, they are startups too and no, don’t look for the agile manifesto there either.

    As I said – without recognising the values, while striving for the nirvana of lean, the wasteless, immediate deployed, 6 functions the customer needs, 6 functions he receives, for the smallest amount of money possible – the vision is ready for the big recycling machine, if there is no team working together. While there is great value in the vision, there is no value to gain without the sort of humanistic values I mentioned earlier.

    Or also: See it as a package, a toolbox where you need hammer and screwdriver and a box where it all fits in nicely.

    Comment by Dennis — January 17, 2013 @ 3:01 am
  2. Hi Dennis,

    Thanks for your reply, I can see that the way I wrote this post triggered something I expected 🙂

    I didn’t write this post to start denigrating agility and the needs for it, at the end of the post, I actually wrote “I do believe Agile will soon disappear, I also believe that WHAT this term was created FOR is still very much alive, that it will live on“.

    I really wanted to show that agility is needed, that it is good, that it was created with a set of fantastic values and principles, and that these WILL HAVE TO be understood and implemented by companies that want to grow and thrive.

    What I also really wanted to express, is that although we need agility, the – capital – AGILE term has lost its meaning, its strength and its potential. It is all very touchy feelly, but for me that’s it, we have reached the point where the term has been marketed to the point where it doesn’t mean very much, and has created a community where the main debates still revolve around the DOING versus BEING Agile. Who cares! Yes I gave my opinion on the subject in the past, but the online posturing around this question is getting tiresome and fruitless.

    The lean startup movement offers a “method for businesses to learn as fast as possible” and “create value for their customers” and “create sustainable businesses”.

    Fundamentally, it is marketed differently from Agile, and it takes its roots in a different age generation and culture mix – mainly young entrepreneurs, who also happen to have (for some of them) reached the status of rock stars. These people are also selling all the good agile stuff as part of the success factors for a startup, but they are not making it the central point of their pitch: they have managed to move away from the argument DOING vs BEING which plagues Agile and makes it stale.

    Another aspect I didn’t really go into in the post is that I actually do believe the lean startup will help better sell the Agile values, principles and practices: these are essential traits of a startup – or any company indeed – to be able to reduce what the method describes as “the runway”: how many experiment cycles can we run before the money runs out?

    Finally, the “living and dying for a company” (working long hours, not seeing the family, etc…) is not something that the lean startup movement has created: maybe it is a behaviour that one is most likely to observe in very young startups – and this is debatable – but I would actually advocate that lean startup done well will reduce the number of companies treating their employees like dirt: as an employee of a lean startup, I KNOW that we will either succeed or fail faster. The question for me is not “am I going to work for a startup and work my *ss off?” the question is more “how fast will I know if I am making the right decision in working for these guys?”.

    Comment by Oli — January 17, 2013 @ 1:43 pm
  3. I knew I was following the well layed out path when answering, but this is required for me to put “Lean Startup” in the right place.

    I find one point very interesting, this whole malarchy of doing versus being thing. I have seen now finally both examples in different setups, being without doing and doing without being. What I also saw is discussing how to start before actually doing or being.

    Of course – if you take Lean Startup as such it is far easier marketable. I mean, who would not want
    – no waste
    – smallest amount of cost possible while generating the greatest business value
    – time to market = immediately
    – deployments from dev to prod 50 times a day
    – …

    While none of the aspects above are really bad, they just focus on a small subset, while I believe XP, Scrum, Lean Startup are all embedded into agile. Of course I have to agree that if I am a large company and I have a small team of developers – if I ask them to develop something and I can observe after two weeks something useful that’s great.

    But of course it’s not sufficient to just say “We’re Lean Startup adopters, in two weeks I want a result” while it takes two weeks for me to onboard the developers, four weeks to buy them notebooks, 8 weeks getting them the development software and access rights…

    Not speaking of the infrastructure for continuos delivery / deployment…

    Anyway, as I said – Lean Startup is to me more an advanced Scrum in terms of even less rules and even closer to the working software bit, but less connection to the agile base.

    Comment by Dennis — January 17, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

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