Book review: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

“The big question of our time is not Can it be built? But Should it be built?” (273)

One of the greatest challenges in startups is deciding how to prioritize limited resources. As companies develop “the startup has to constantly re-evaluate its strategy and ask – should we pivot or persevere” (51) Should the company persevere and push forward with its current strategy, vision, and product plan or should it pivot – change direction, realign its scarce resources and admit sunk costs.

Eric Reis in The Lean Startup outlines three key steps to answering the question of whether the company should be building a product. First, he advocates the release of the minimal viable product or MVP. Second, he advocates validated learning in which the company rigorously evaluates the current strategy by asking if it should “pivot or persevere.” And third, he advocates that single-piece flow production.

He writes, “The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time. The minimum viable product lacks many features that may prove essential later on. However, in some ways, creating a MVP requires extra work: we must be able to measure its impact… Remember, if we’re building something that nobody wants, it doesn’t much matter if we’re doing it on time and on budget.” (77)

Throughout the book he reiterates the necessity to validate key assumptions about future products. He exclaims, “The big question of our time is not Can it be built? But Should it be built?” (273) Further, Reis discusses the Japanese motto: Genchi Gembutsu­: “go and see for yourself”. The product designers, he insists, must have ‘deep firsthand knowledge’ about the customer and the customer’s problem that the product intends to solve.

Finally, to succeed in producing the MVP Reis advocates “single-piece flow” in which the production batch size is one. Small batch sizes, he explains, allow us to find out almost immediately where the problem is in our system. (Chapter 9)

When working with tech teams, product teams should work in small, simple sprints instead of monthly product roadmaps. Short sprints keep teams focussed with attainment milestones.

The key questions to ask:

1) “Do consumers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve? 2) If there was a solution, would they buy it? 3) Would they buy it from us? 4) Can we build a solution for that problem?” (64)

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