lean startup

Is the Lean startup model outmoded or does it just need a tweak?

Are our lean startup metaphors outdated? I work with start-ups at every stage of their evolution. It’s exciting, addictive and a positive challenge. But sometimes I wonder whether the lean startup model is creaking at the seams. Let me explain why.


We’re all happy with the concept that The Lean Startup provides a more scientific approach to creating and managing startups. No argument there. We know that it often assists with putting your products in customers’ hands much quicker. This model helps to drive, steer and take the journey at maximum acceleration. But it’s interesting that we use the metaphor grabbed from the automotive industry. In fact, the concept of ‘lean’ goes back to the 1950s when Toyota implemented Taiichi Ohno’s organisation innovations.


So what were the basic changes that fuelled Lean?

  • Controlling material flow between suppliers and industrial operators that were often very large organisations.
  • Production spaces and distribution were quite tightly controlled.


Yes, it worked but mass production is one thing, yet in today’s economic sphere who wants to necessarily operate in a relatively confined and controlled system? That’s the question that bothers me when I think about the lean StartUp Model.

What are the characteristics of lean production now?

You’d say teamwork is pivotal

Communication must be clear and transparent to all

We have a duty to eliminate waste on every single level

Our use of resources needs to be highly efficient, always

We need to be looking for ways to continuously improve.

That’s a much more forward-looking philosophy.

In the past, lean production in a mass production market was about halving human effort; the manufacturing space required; the investment to tools; engineering time, product development time and inventory required on site.

We can see the difference in perspective and approach. Mass producers can often set themselves targets for defects that might be called: ‘good enough’. They often argue that it’s not cost effective to do better than that. I don’t think that’s something that occurs to many of the startup founders and entrepreneurs I work with.


The difference between lean startups 2016 and the concept of lean in the 1950s is quite marked. 

I talk with entrepreneurs that want to overturn tradition. They have seen what has been put in front of them and know they can improve on that. In fact, they don’t just want to tweak, or improve: they want a brand new world order. This isn’t fanciful. What we are seeing today is a shift away from materialism and movement towards what has been called ‘immaterialism’. What does that mean? Well, Thierry Gaudin of GlobeCast summed it up this way:

"Materialistic values such as  ‘domination, conquest and performance have been replaced by individuation, empathy, and resilience."


No one is interested in replicating the past.

So you can see this underpins so much of what I see working in the MassChallenge and other incubator initiatives. No one is interested in replicating the past. This is not surprising when we see that the key resources many are working with are digital. This means, inevitably, that what we are looking at is ‘immaterial’. Therefore having a more agile and creative approach to any new business venture is vital. After all, it’s likely that in the lean startup 2.0 model most entrepreneurs will be dealing with new managerial and societal practices. Outsourcing is pivotal. The ‘information flow space’ is key.

Even social spaces are changing. Think of the pressure to come up with new ways of living and working for an ageing population that retire later, expect to be part of society’s cut and thrust for longer and want to live differently.

The emergence of intangibility affects us all. 

The blurring of boundaries between personal and business time has a profound effect in how we operate. All these aspects and shifts mean we need to think again.

If you would like to talk to me about startups and how to develop a lean, agile and creative company then contact me here.


Book of the Month: Digital Futures, Digital Transformation Ahmned Bounfour Springer 2016

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