Enterprise Lean Startup

In this article I'm going to answer some of the following questions:

  • How does Lean Startup work with change management?
  • How do I apply governance to Lean Startup?
  • How does Lean Startup fit in the enterprise?
  • Can Lean Startup releases be internal only?
  • Do I need to change my organisation to do Lean Startup?

There's just one little thing to get out of the way first. Those are all vaguely SEO-targeted questions put out there in the hope I can get here before the snake oil salesmen. Here's the truth: if you got here by Googling any of the above, you are going to fail at Lean Startup.

You're going to fail for the same reason you failed at Scrum, the same reason you failed at RUP, the same reason you failed at SSADM and the same reason your CMMI assessment (if you ever did one) got stuffed in a filing cabinet and never looked at again. You're going to bump up against the first thing which requires actual organisational change, and you're going to run away from it.

Lean Startup is even worse. Lean Startup is specifically built to bruise the egos of those who take a position of, "this product is super awesome because I say so and all of the people not buying it are wrong". It's about having the willingness to fail, to take risks, and to change direction into new and unfamiliar territory.

But never mind. Someone will sell you a comforting "enterprise grade" variation that doesn't solve any of the problems the real thing does, but lets you feel good about yourself because you can claim you're following whatever the latest silver bullet is. Come to think of it, they're not going to sell you it - I'm going to give it away for free before they have chance.

An introduction to Enterprise Lean Startup

The Enterprise Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to mostly doing the same old thing you've always done, while branding it as cool and trendy so you can tell your board of directors you're being innovative and up to the minute. At the core of it is the build/guess/do-the-same-again loop, by which you build the same old products in a new skin, claim they're wildly successful even if they're not, then repeat the process until the money runs out.

It values the following principles:

  • Minimum Viable Product releases: Prioritise everything as a "must" so it has to make it into the first release. You've got to make sure the product releases are viable, and have the minimum number of them (i.e. one).
  • Actionable Metrics: Make up the usual figures about how the failed product is just about to take off real soon now, but put some animations into your Powerpoint slides. Metrics with actions... actionable metrics!
  • Split testing: Split development teams and testing teams apart with a clear hand-off process. (No more of this tired old "Agile" nonsense about them working together)
  • Continuous deployment: Apply enough governance, change control gates and general red tape around deployment that several team members are working continuously on getting to the point where they might be able to actually deploy some software.
  • Frequent feedback: Regularly release internally to a few key, previously-agreed stakeholders to get feedback that you are definitely doing the right thing and don't need to change any of your original ideas.

At the heart of all this is the build/guess/do-the-same-again loop, and over all of it a simple guiding principle: never do anything that might require change, courage, or the ability to reflect and try something new.

Are there any alternatives?

Well... kind of.

I mean, are you sure you want to do this? Sure you don't want to take the comfortable, enterprise-grade route to failure I've so lovingly packaged above?

Okay then.

The alternative is to do it right this time. To stop being one of those companies sitting there in a state of helplessness, looking for some easy and lazy silver bullet that will let them operate with the same efficiency as people who put serious amounts of energy, effort and commitment into creating processes that help them work effectively.

It requires the courage to change. The willingness to learn. The curiosity to measure. The ability to be humble when data from the real world rejects your ideas. The flexibility to explore new directions in response to an initial failure. Not things you have to read about; things you have to be.

Enterprise Lean Startup will happen. My guide to it might look like a cruel, sarcastic joke but you will see companies following pretty much exactly that process. You'll see consultants trying to sell it, dressing it up as "Lean Startup... but for real companies" or any one of a million other soothing platitudes to make you feel okay about being antiquated and slow-moving to the point of ossification. But you don't have to be a part of that; you don't need to be one of the many people gearing up to have a frustrating time with a watered-down process, bounce off it, and come away writing articles about how Lean Startup is dead. Instead, you can be one of the few that get it right.

One of the few that will be able to compete in a market full of startups who know exactly what they're doing and where to head with it.

Image by Jean-Pierre Bazard CC-SA 3.0