Lean startup: Making it work in large organizations

The term “lean startup” is not very old. Coined by entrepreneur Eric Ries on his blog in 2008, lean startup built on the foundation of many earlier ideas, from Toyota and lean manufacturing to agile development methodologies to Steve Blank’s philosophy of customer development. But it described a new approach to developing prototypes, learning from customers, gathering data, and pivoting until you’ve created something that people really want.

A big focus of lean startup, like lean manufacturing before it, is eliminating waste, which in the world of startups meant investor’s money and employees’ time. But it turns out that all of those things are important to large organizations as well, and so in the past five years, we’ve seen the lean startup approach making major inroads in Global 1000 companies. At companies like General Electric, W.L. Gore, Telefonica, and Viacom, executives are finding that the principles of lean startup can help them get customer input sooner — before millions of dollars are spent — and make decisions with actual data from the outside world, rather than forecasts and projections.

The goal of this report isn’t to rehash the principles of lean startup. Instead, we set out to ask executives at large organizations about the benefits they’re seeing from deploying lean startup; the allies who’ve been helping them; the challenges they’ve encountered; the software and consultancies they’ve been relying on; and the advice they’d share with others.

We also have collected more than a dozen case studies, interviews, and panel discussion or presentation excerpts that we’ve published or reported on over the past 18 months. Some of the charts from our May 2016 survey on lean startup, with 170 qualified responses from executives at $1B+ revenue companies, appear below.


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Advice from survey respondents:

  •  “Define a vision which has the support of a senior executive, but don’t wait for a consensual agreement from everyone in the company.
  •  “The best way to get buy-in is to show results.”
  •  “Remind the organization of past projects that went too far before getting customer feedback.”
  •  “Make sure your external partners and collaborators for external pilots know that pilot implementations can be temporary or change direction.”
  •  “You need the commitment to adjust resources for winners discovered during lean startup activities, so you can scale them successfully.”
  •  “Get out of the building and break the rules.”

Companies included in the report:

  • 3M
  • Adobe
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Constant Contact
  • Ericsson
  • General Electric
  • General Mills
  • Goodyear
  • Intuit
  • Owens Corning
  • Regal Beloit
  • Telefónica
  • Viacom
  • W.L. Gore


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