[Book report] The Startup Way

The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries genuinely had a massive effect on me and my career. I read it in 2012 — about the same time as the whole GDS thing was really kicking off — and it was a heady mix of reading things that formalised a lot of what I had cobbled together as my own ways of working. Much of that book just really clicked with me (there were bits I didn’t and don’t agree with but mainly..) and it certainly was influential in my thinking of myself as a ‘product manager’ professionally. I’ve had a copy of ‘The Startup Way’ on my Kindle since it was released sometime last autumn but hadn’t really been tempted but this weekend I got it on Audible, pushed the audio up to x1.5 and went on a couple of long walks and listened to most of it (does anyone ever read all of this type of book?).

Anyway this one is not changing anyones life…or anybodies mind even I suspect. It is basically ‘The Lean Transformation’ as it mainly focuses on the challenge of taking some of the lessons from his first book and implementing them at scale at bigger, more traditional enterprises/institutions.

As ‘playbooks’ go it is pretty familiar.

  • Listen and learn from customers/users.
  • Experiment, prototype and iterate.
  • Increase the risk appetite for the organisation.
  • Transform the ‘gatekeepers’ (finance, HR, security, legal, procurement..) into enablers of a modern way of working rather than blockers.
  • Find new ways of financing projects/programmes/products if you are going to work this way.
  • Governance and oversight needs to be different if you are going to work this way.

Nothing much to disagree with there. In fact I’d suggest the UK digital government community is probably ahead of the curve in much of this (even accepting the occasional Deloitte authored setback!).

I’m sure there is more in there as well — it is fine. Many of the examples given are interesting if slightly well worn if you follow this kind of thing closely and it is always nice to read something that broadly confirms the approach you are already committed to. The main problem with the book is that some of the suggestions sound a bit too much like ‘innovation labs’ or something. I still think there is something dangerous about splitting off these teams as internal ‘start-ups’ with different rules of engagement with the rest of the business.

One thing he does say which has stuck with me is that we need to start to except that ‘transformation’ is an ongoing thing and that there will be a constant cycle of business upgrades just to keep up and in this model this is achieved by a constant stream of internal startups looking to disrupt from within to constantly be evolving and improving. Whether this is the right approach I am unsure (leaning towards nope..) but I do believe there is no big bang ‘digital transformation’ and instead it is just about constantly iterating everything in order to be the best business you can be.

It is worth a skim for sure. Like I said I don’t think it is a game changer but it provides some context and examples of how these ways of working can work outside of start-ups and that alone is always helpful.

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