Late to the ‘Lean’ Party

As is my tradition at this point I was reading the latest Wired magazine while sat on the floor of a crowded train coming back from London. Usually I skim through the articles while trying not to get stood on by stressed commuters and just identify which order I’ll end up reading the longer pieces. This month however I found myself sucked in to properly reading one article and then immediately buying the book it referred to on my Kindle (using the slither of 3G connectivity between Reading and Swindon!).

To date I’ve pretty much ignored the ‘Lean Startup‘ movement. Really though that is just because I’ve become pretty anti-startup culture and am a little bored of the whole entrepeneur way of life being held up as the only valid choice for anyone with talent and/or ambition.

What the Wired article demonstrated was that I didn’t really understand alot of what ‘Lean’ was really about and in fact alot of the core terms and tenents were things that I was already familiar with but had ascribed to the general ‘agile’ way of thinking.

I could do with the book containing a little less hyperbole but there is alot of interesting ideas in there. Alot of which is applicable outside of the traditional start-up culture. There is the whole concept of the intrapreneur which is kind of cheesy but also also rings true. Also the definition of startup is much wider that I’m used to.

The use of the term ‘Minimal Viable Product‘ really came to my attention around the launch of the initial ‘AlphaGov’ work and it certainly seems to have alot of currency in public sector web/digital projects at the moment and it is something I’ll admit to buying into. As someone who has worked on some seemingly never-ending web projects that were already out of date by the time they launched this seems like an idea that could have a real impact.

There are other aspects of the ‘Principles‘ that I think have a place in my working world especially ‘validated learning’ which preaches the importance of performing experiments to allow you to make data-driven decisions (though some of the extremes this is taken to is stuff I wouldn’t be comfortable with) and encourages the use of things like A/B testing where you can track real actions rather than things like focus groups.

Also the ‘build-measure-learn’ seems like an extension of the ‘release early, release often‘ mantra from agile development. I think this relies on the right kind of team and structure but where it is possible it increasingly seems like a ‘no brainer to me!

There is a whole section about the need for management to change and to be able to create a different, more risk-willing culture for this sort of activity to flourish which sounds great in theory but I think outside of Aviation House that is probably wishful thinking in the public sector at the moment.

I can certainly see why the ideas appeal to alot of people – especially those with dreams of making it big with the next successful startup but I’ll admit to being surprised to how much a public servant like myself was able to get out of it all.