Lean Misconceptions

Misconceptions in lean manufacturing are easy to make, but they are dangerous!  And anyone can misinterpret and misrepresent things.  Mark Graban provides a striking example of a misconception in his blog post Should Have a Question Mark: Inc’s “The Leanest Startup?” :

“Inc. Magazine didn’t have the question mark in the headline, but I think it should be there. Much as the WSJ often just gets it way wrong about Lean, Inc. follows up it’s earlier butchering of “The Lean Startup” methodology (see my post What’s Wrong with “What’s Wrong With the Lean Start-up”) with a new story that really seems to miss some key concepts: “The Leanest Start-up in Silicon Valley.”

First off, the article in in the “bootstrapping” section of the magazine. As the author of The Lean Startup Eric Ries often says, Lean is not about bootstrapping or being strapped for cash.

A Lean Startup is about going through as many cycles of learning (and pivoting or improvement) before you run out of cash. Even an earlier Inc. article (giving credit when it’s due) emphasizes that Eric’s approach is “beyond bootstrapping.

So, maybe the focus of the story, Kurt Varner, living in his car could be called “The Bootstrappiest Startup”… or somebody who found a ploy for attention and P.R. by choosing to sleep in his car — not sure what that proves, really.

Secondly, the story talks about all of the time Kurt spends talking (or trying to get appointments with) accomplished entrepreneurs. I thought “The Lean Startup” was all about talking to customers and understanding a day in their life, not just copying lessons from successful startups (such as growing beards?). Even Eric says that you shouldn’t listen to him because he was involved in a successful startup before.

The article talks about how Kurt uses Ukranian developers to work on his app… is that because they are better or because they are cheap? Again, citing Eric, Lean is NOT about being cheap or offshoring. I thought Lean Startup development was typically done locally so you could be fast and responsive… not cheap.

Finally, Kurt seems to have an idea in search of a problem to solve. He has created an iOS app that wakes people up in a creative way… was that idea really based on a customer need? The idea of having to go to a web browser to turn off your alarm clock might be clever, but it’s also described as “annoying” by potential customers.

Graban goes on in his blog post to sum up the problems he sees in Inc.’s article:

  • Lean Startup isn’t about bootstrapping or having no money
  • Lean Startup doesn’t mean sleeping in your car
  • Lean Startup doesn’t mean trying to meet every famous entrepreneur you can
  • Lean Startup doesn’t mean offshore development
  • Lean Startup does mean having a customer problem to solve… and iterating through as many cycles of learning as possible


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