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How to Apply Lean Startup at Big Companies

March 3, 2021
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Alexandru Darie, Contributing Columnist

There are two main things that most corporations do not get, even when they are proponents of a customer-centric approach:

  1. Talking very early with the customer (even when you do not have much to show, or maybe just a rough sketch of what you might want to do)
  2. Outcome-driven planning, rather than the traditional deliverable-driven approach (asking what is the customer behavior change you want to see and what are the main risks or assumptions to get there)

Both are key to the lean startup methodology.

As part of a global innovation group over the last five years at a major manufacturer of lighting technology, I had the chance to work on anything from consumer e-commerce to professional solutions for segments like agriculture. We developed purely digital, stand-alone apps, as well as hardware and IoT systems. Within the group, I took the player-coach role, training the team as we built solutions. My proudest moment was when I was not needed in the team, because they were flying solo.

A few of the slides I have used in training colleagues on lean startup are below; you can download the full deck in InnoLead’s resource center.

The main thing I can advise, from applying the lean startup method over and over, is that in order to be accepted by the team and eventually successful in delivering the business idea, you need make the process fit the style of your organization. Lean startup is not a bible, rather a recipe book you can use when appropriate.

Now, many people argue that if a corporation sells complex, expensive, engineering-intensive products, it is impossible to apply the ideas of lean startup. The way I look at it — and I know I’m not alone in this — the main thing that lean startup says is to express your assumptions, and find ways to test them early on. The more complex and complicated your product is, or the more expensive and irreversible the choices about your future direction, the more you should run lots of tests up-front. This is equally valid for an integrated circuit, an expensive mold to mass-produce your product housing, or anything else that you are making assumptions about.

Skeptics have also explained to me why research organizations can’t use lean startup, because the research themes they are exploring are too broad, or too long-term. The reality is that for everything you consider doing, you likely have something in your mind about the best way to approach it, or the first steps for your research explorations. Write that down, and see if there are any aspects of the lean startup methodology that you can apply, to understand faster and cheaper whether those steps are the best ones to take.

Templates are a good way to pass on knowledge and synthesize otherwise lengthy explanations. However, they are not meant to replace those explanations. Books like The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olson, or the entire collection of Alexander Osterwalder, Clay Christensen, and Geoffrey Moore are still must-reads. The deck I created summarizes an innovation process I would follow and provides guidance in terms of steps to follow, as well as templates to use. It can for sure be expanded upon, but the main steps are there.

Good luck, and I’d love to hear your questions or experiences. A few sample slides are below, and the full PowerPoint deck can be found here. Leave a comment, or get in touch with me on LinkedIn!

 

 

Alexandru Darie is the former Strategic Director of Digital Innovation at Signify, the company previously known as Philips Lighting.

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