Review of Lean Startup

The Lean Startup is a book that describes a mindset for product development that emphasizes rapid development iteration and thorough, objective review of customer feedback. The author argues that in a startup or similar product development environment, the developer benefits most from learning through how the customer reacts to the product and any changes to that product. That understood, the developer should focus on minimizing the time through the build-measure-learn feedback loop. Launching with a minimum viable product (MVP) enables the developer to test the hypothesis that the product or change to the product is effective at providing a solution to a customer’s problem. Through quantitative and qualitative measures of customer feedback, the developer can assess the impact of each change, learn more about what the customer wants, and decide quickly and accurately how to focus development efforts.

The author focuses mainly on business situations with great uncertainty, in particular startups and product development. Interestingly, the author advocates a business mindset that is similar to the “growth mindset” espoused in the book Mindset. The “growth mindset” is a belief that success or failure for someone is an opportunity to learn and grow rather than a reflection on the static characteristics of that person, as someone with a “fixed mindset” would believe. In the case of the Lean Startup, the growth mindset is applied to business situations with great uncertainty.

The author argues that too many people put huge efforts into perfecting their product to avoid any negative feedback. Often these efforts might not be effective in solving a customer’s problem, and it is quite difficult to know whether the efforts will yield more business without testing the market.

One can minimize the build-learn-feedback loop by: hypothezing a solution to a customer problem, building an MVP to implement this solution, measuring customer feedback to the MVP (both quanitatively and qualitatively), and learning from this feedback to guide future development efforts.

The author lays out his argument and several case studies, which seem all too convenient and fitting. Nonetheless, the reader is left convinced. The author recognizes that the difficulty in working in the Lean Startup way is not in understanding the theory but in implementation. Business culture, frustrations with the new method, blows to confidence after failure, vacuous metrics, and lack of awareness can all derail the Lean Startup mentality. The author offers plenty of advice and examples in how to confront and prevent these problems.

The Lean Manufacturing principles of small batches, immediate stoppage of the assembly line for any inexplicable defects, and the 5 Whys offer a neat set of principles to help implement the Lean Startup way. Small batches minimize the build-measure-learn feedback loop; stoppage of the assembly line for any inexplicable defects maintains high levels of quality and builds a strong development/manufacturing methodology so as to save time spent on mistakes in the future; the 5 Whys gives a method for dealing with any mistakes or disruptions to business – simply ask “Why?” five times and focus not on static attributes of people or the Company, but the methods that the Company or the people use (the “growth mindset”).

I’ll add a bullet point summary of the advice from the book that stuck with me.

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