The Lean Startup Methodology

The Lean Startup Methodology

The Lean Startup is a business approach coined by Eric Ries that fundamentally aims to change the way that new companies are built and new products are shipped.

At its core it is built upon three key areas:

  1. Iterative product releases with extremely fast cycle times
  2. Validated learning to focus on what customers want
  3. A scientific approach to decision making

This allows the output of shortened product development cycles, measured progress, and input of valuable customer feedback (observing behaviour, not directly asking).

Organizations can design their products and services to directly meet the demands of their customer base without requiring large amounts of initial funding or expensive product launches that may fail. Waste spending and risk are massively reduced.

Originally designed for high-tech companies, the philosophy has now expanded out to include any individual, team, agency or company looking to introduce new products or services into the market.


Ries developed the Lean Startup methodology through his direct experiences as a startup employee, founder and advisor. Through success and failure (and especially failure), he began to highlighted the biggest mistakes made by these emerging organizations.

In the twentieth century, a good plan, a solid strategy and thorough market research were often indicators of likely success. The problem with a startup (and indeed a lot of businesses right now) is that they do not yet know who their customers are or what their products should be - as startups are essentially a search for a viable business model there is too much uncertainty for accurate forecasting.  

Failure then was the result of having too concrete a vision. It did not accurately represent consumer demand, and assumptions were not validated. When a product finally launched after a huge amount of investment, it ended up being something customers either didn’t want or wouldn’t pay for.

Ries calls this “achieving failure” - successfully, faithfully, and rigorously executing a plan that turned out to be utterly flawed.

A new methodology was required to address this.

Kotter 8 Step Process for Change

Kotter 8 Step Process for Change

I have written previously about the challenges of adjusting organizations to our rapidly changing environment in my Slideshare “Digital Transformation and the Customer Experience: Overcoming Barriers and a Framework for Success”. The reality is that over 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail, so any sort of strategies to help mitigate this and achieve success are welcome additions to this framework.

One of the most referenced change strategies comes via John Kotter and his Kotter International Consulting Firm. Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change offers a great starting blueprint for organizational adaptation, and will be explored in this essay.

Defining the Problem

Kotter offers a fantastic overview of the problem at hand via this short video (see full post).

The rate of change in both markets and our lives is creating unprecedented uncertainty. Between new software platforms underpinning new and existing business models, and the growth of interconnection and complex adaptive systems, digital disruption is an ever present threat.

Members of the S&P500’s lifespan has dropped to just 15 years. Billion dollar businesses can now be built by a few entrepreneurs in a few years, often rising and falling just as quickly. With entire entrenched industries being threatened by much nimbler competition, the need to rethink bloated middle management, global divisional structures lacking connectivity, siloed departments operating as fiefdoms and toxic internal politics is an ever present reality.

Organizations facing this challenge without a plan often fall back on reflex behavior like outsourcing perceived problems to overpriced business consultants which often just repeats the cycle in the long term. Worse, when faced with the need to make decisions when facing this complexity, organizations let paralysis take over moving into a slow decline.

Reorganizing to be more nimble, intelligent and reactive to ever present change (especially from the influence of digital) requires a lot of hard work and diligence. Kotter outlines a great framework to hopefully drive greater success in these efforts.

Defining Success Goals

Before we jump into the process itself, it’s good to understand three categorizations of urgency where organizations are on the spectrum of change - Complacency, False Urgency and True Urgency. By defining a successful mindset first, we can get a better handle of what we are aiming for when we initially begin change efforts.

Lean User Research: Perfectly Execute the Right Plan

Lean User Research: Perfectly Execute the Right Plan

I recently watched a keynote by Tomer Sharon, UX Researcher on Google Search at the Google I/O 2014 conference entitled 'Perfectly Executing the Wrong Plan'. This talk was so good I have decided to break out the topic and explore it as a framework in this post.

Tomer is at the forefront of what is being called 'Lean User Research', which applies agile methodologies to the existing techniques of User Experience (UX). With connectedness leading to greater and greater complexity, and the need to get products to market rapidly so we can generate insights, it makes sense that we need to start to re-evaluate some of the more traditional UX processes that can often eat up time and resources.

The keynote itself was centred around app development, but this can definitely be applied to any product. It also is more focused on startups, but definitely has applications in all organisations. I'll build the framework around this broader product categorisation.

Perfectly Executing the Wrong Plan

Why do a huge number of products fail in the market? One of the primary reasons can be the fact that the product being built isn't actually solving a problem for the customers, which means that they will ultimately not care about what is on offer.

This leads us to the most important concept - whoever was creating the product failed to fall in love with a problem, which means there was no opportunity.

The Product Design Sprint from Google Ventures

The Product Design Sprint from Google Ventures

If you have come from a digital agency background, or work within a digital marketing department responsible for online platforms, you will no doubt have come into contact with all manner of UX/design sprints and ideation processes to develop or improve your owned assets.

Jake Knapp, Design Partner at Google Ventures has outlined a technique used on a variety of their client problems that synthesises this down. It's called the Product Design Sprint. While this mainly applies to startups, it has a lot of relevance to any business that is interested in moving fast to market, and driving faster feedback loops.

This post will explore the Design Sprint process in more detail - I'm doing a lot of paraphrasing (my stab at the Feynman Technique), so check out the original article if interested.


Knapp writes that the Design Sprint process was developed out of a frustration of group brainstorming. He tended to find that while good ideas were thought up in this environment, they tended to not end up progressing; successful ideas ultimately come from individuals, not groups.

Paired Metrics

Paired Metrics

There is no question that information is flowing at exceeding rapid rates. This increased complexity is often creating uncertainty, and in extreme cases paralysis for organisations.

We often look for shortcuts or simplifications in this environment, and this is especially true of the data that is being generated as part of doing business. As a result, both business leaders and agencies often try and simplify data into a single key metric to measure goals and performance.

As pointed out by Avinash Kaushik, the danger of this approach is that single metrics can often hide valuable insights, and even worse drive bad behaviour. 

The solution he proposes is to always ensure you partner up your 'golden metric' that is important for the business with a paired metric (in essence acting as a backup and sense check to the data). The goal here is to ensure the partner metric is immediately adjacent or offers contextual value - it should add further insight into the specific primary goal you are focused on. 

Below I'll go through several key paired metrics Avinash outlines as examples. Remember, all businesses are very different, and have largely differing goals, so use these as inspiration.

The Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture

The Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture

The following article outlines two interesting mental models - the Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture. Both of these have connections with each other, and are of interest to anyone in Marketing & Advertising.

The Pareto Principle 

This model (often called the 80/20 rule) is designed to help you realise that the majority of results come from a minority of inputs. In other words, most things in life are not distributed evenly.

It's called the 80/20 for that specific reason - 80% of the effects of something come from 20% of the inputs or causes. 

For a business manager or entrepreneur, this principle can appear in a range of forms. Examples include:

  • 80% of a companies profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of complaints come from 20% of the customers 
  • 80% of crashes come from 20% of bugs
  • 80% of results are contributed by 20% of workers

Adapting to this knowledge involves uncovering this 20% and focusing on it. For example, if 20% or workers contribute 80% of results, focus on rewarding these employees. Or if 20% of customers contribute 80% of revenue, focus on satisfying their needs.

You're Not a Leader, You're an Editor

You're Not a Leader, You're an Editor

I've mentioned this before on this blog, but we continue to face mounting complexity due to our increasing connectedness, and this complexity can lead to paralysis. It is interesting to see how different people are managing these changes to drive their careers - a great example comes from Square and Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey.

Dorsey interestingly positions his job as an editor. Further to this, he believes that every CEO or leader in a company is (or needs to) embody this editor persona. Without it, you will fail to present a single cohesive story to the world.

Think about the history of the traditional print editor. Their role was to pick content out and weave it into a coherent story. You would try and remove "bad" content - remembering that this may include good ideas that don't necessarily fit into your master story.

The CEO as Chief Editor

Dorsey outlines the three key areas he needs to act as editor at Square, but is careful to point out that these priorities can be customised and applied to anyones role accordingly. They are:

1. Recruiting

2. Internal & External Vision

3. Money in the Bank

Watch the video below, with quotes to follow.

An Acquisition, Behaviour and Outcome Metrics Framework

An Acquisition, Behaviour and Outcome Metrics Framework

In Digital, often success lies in the ability to reduce complexity, and to focus on the minimal key ideas that can drive the biggest impact. We have abundant choice, but as we know from the science behind decision making, this choice can in fact lead to paralysis.

Finding the elements to drive focus requires an understanding of the business, a knowledge of what is possible, and the ability to balance current objectives with the future in mind - not an easy task, but all the more difficult without a solid base of data.

The always intelligent Avinash Kaushik has a simple framework to try and reduce the complexity around digital marketing metrics by providing a simple view top line view for decision makers. Let's break it down.

Acquisition, Behaviour and Outcomes (ABO)

The full spectrum of the digital customer journey involves three very top line steps - how we acquire traffic or customers, their behaviour once they land on our platforms, and the business outcomes that we generate as a result of this. While different agencies or departments may be focused on individual parts of this journey, we need to create a framework that takes a view of all three together - we often need to break the heavy silo focus that can exist in many organisations and their relationships with partners.

Analysis of the full and complete customer journey is the key to success.

Digital Adaptation: The Organizational Strategy Framework

Digital Adaptation: The Organizational Strategy Framework

I want to kick off this post by stating that coming up with an organizational marketing strategy is extremely hard. It requires deep insight into the nature of a business, and a strong alignment internally between stakeholders (see my post of the Golden Circle for further insight). Coming up with a digital marketing strategy adds further pressures by introducing new and evolving technologies, tools and practices, which can complicate the matter further.

Forming a digital marketing strategy however is a fundamental must have - not only does it provide a framework for the organization itself, it also helps when briefing in advertising agencies and partners to ensure executions remain pointy.

The problem agencies often face in getting a clear and defined digital marketing strategy from the marketing team. It is amazing the amount of times this is as low level as "we want to increase sales online" (side note - every business deep down wants to increase sales).

The T-Shaped Digital Marketing Framework

The T-Shaped Digital Marketing Framework

This post continues my series on Mental Models.

Without sounding like a broken record, digital has added a huge amount of complexity to marketing (although on the flip side, also a huge amount of opportunity) . The problem we face is the pace of change at the moment - attempting to stand up against the tide of innovation can feel hugely daunting.

There is a great quote from Jocelyn K. Glei from Maximise Your Potential that sums this up:  

“The lightening-fast evolution of technology means that jobs can now become indispensable or outmoded in a matter of years, even months. Who knew what a “community manager” was ten years ago? What about an “iPad app designer” or a “JavaScript ninja"?

A substantial portion of the working population now earns its livelihood doing jobs that didn’t exist ten or twenty years ago. And even if the nature of your job hasn’t changed, chances are you’re using new and unanticipated technology and skills to perform that job. Think of the designer who blogs, the comedian who tweets, or the filmmaker who raises a budget on Kickstarter.

Ten years from now, we’ll probably all be doing some new type of work that we couldn’t possibly imagine today. That thought is both exhilarating and frightening. How do we prepare for a future filled with uncertainty?”