The Secrets to Success at Intuit’s Lean Startup Program

June 17, 2020

In this episode of One Quick Thing, Bennett Blank discusses creating a company-wide innovative culture, staying hands-on in a virtual world, and balancing innovation training with an employee’s “day job.” Blank is an InnoLead at Intuit, a financial software company. Three takeaways from the conversation follow. 

The Secret to Success is a Company-wide Culture of Innovation

There isn’t any one given design thinking principle or framework that the team at Intuit uses to promote innovation, Blank says. Rather, the secret to the immense success of Intuit’s programs is an innovative culture that extends to all employees. The Lean Startup program training is “literally for everybody” at the company, meaning that anyone could get involved in an innovation initiative and help accelerate it. 

“Essentially, the job of my team is to fan the flame of this innovation culture while also building capability. And so, our mission…is all around taking these methodologies that are proven effective and getting them out to our employees, and frankly, training them how to apply them to their work,'” Blank says. 

It’s Still Possible to be Hands-On, Even When Working Remotely

The innovation team at Intuit will continue to train the same number of employees remotely on lean startup principles in Q3 and Q4, Blank says, despite the fact that the training is typically very hands-on and designed to be in-person. “We just had to apply a little creativity and a spunk to what we were doing.”

Team-based training is more effective than an individual approach, Blank says. Intuit uses small breakout groups, typically with three people, where team members are encouraged to give a small presentation about themselves, come up with a team name that follows a certain theme, and choose a matching Zoom background. Turning training into a form of “edutainment” has been helpful for keeping team spirit high, Blank says, and allows for hands-on, collaborative work in a virtual environment.

The current model includes 20 hours of training, broken into one to two hour chunks, several times a week. “[By the end of the month-long training program, employees] have actually created a prototype of a real backlog item that they are planning to work on, and then they’ve actually executed that experiment with customers,” Blank says.

Effective Innovation Begins with Customer Observation 

There is a kitchen table in the lobby of the Intuit headquarters, which is a nod to how Intuit founder Scott Cook began the company in 1983. While trying to think of an idea for a new product or business, Cook observed his wife paying bills, balancing the checkbook, and other financial management tasks at their kitchen table. This observation became the generative idea for Quicken. 

“The initial customer research took place with his wife, and eventually, some friends. … [Cook] would observe people trying to do various financial management tasks. So, this notion of going to where the people are, what we call a ‘follow-me-home,’ observing real behavior and using that as your primary input for innovation is really something that has stuck with us since the founding days.” Blank says. 

“You go to a gym every day for a reason, right? You don’t go to a gym to learn how to lift the weight. You go to the gym to lift the weight,” he says. “I tell people a lot, the training is not training, it’s practice. … And if you just tell me what you’re struggling with, I guarantee you we can focus that practice on something that’s going to improve a skill that will help you be better at your job tomorrow.” 

This episode of One Quick Thing is sponsored by InnovationCast. InnovationCast provides leading-edge innovation management software and innovation strategy consulting, enabling teams to go from ideas to success. They can help innovators drive growth by: Getting to stronger ideas, faster; testing the most promising ideas, without breaking the bank; and taking the best ideas to the finish line and creating impact.

Learn more at

Are You Still Learning or Are You Implementing? 

InnoLead asked webcast attendees about their companies’ experiences with lean startup methodology. Forty percent of webcast participants said that they were still in learning mode, and 24 percent said they’ve used it in the past at their company but aren’t using it currently or consistently.