This last fall we received the next iteration in lean with Eric Ries’s new book, Lean Startup. If you are not already familiar with lean startup thinking, it is an approach to reducing risk in new business ventures by identifying and testing the assumptions required for business success. The movement was started by Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Steve Blank, who asserted startup success can be managed through an iterative and repeatable process called customer driven development. Concepts like minimum viable product, build-measure-learn feedback loop, and learning milestones, all derive directly from lean.
The book is a must-read for any high tech professional. While it does not necessarily break new ground in lean startup thinking, it is one of the most approachable introductions to the critical concepts. Eric narrates examples from companies such as Dropbox, Intuit, SnapTax, Grockit, and his own IMVU, making the concepts practical and approachable for almost any audience. He details how the concept of learning milestones as accepted output of feedback loops can reduce risk, and shows how A-B testing of assumptions can minimize risk. I also liked his thinking around business models as an engine of growth whose trajectory will decelerate over time unless tuned, which ties in well with Clayton Christensen's thesis in Innovator’s Dilemma.
On the downside, the content density of the book can be somewhat low at times, as Eric spends a little too much time justifying lean as a management philosophy. Also while his concept of innovation accounting was well received by some of my colleagues, it fell a little flat with me.
Overall I give Lean Startup a +1. It represents a great introduction to lean startup thinking from the person who coined the term. It provides some good insight and tips for existing practitioners. I liked the book enough to not only purchase a copy for myself, but also for the executive team of my current startup.
I also recommend the book that started it all: Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany.