The Lean Startup Adapt notes

These are my notes on this chapter from the book The Lean Startup. My original post is here.

As a company grows you need additional processes and systems designed to coordinate the company’s operations at each larger size.

Many start up become ossified (become fixed and will not change) and bureaucratic out of a misplaced desire to become “professional”.

Having no system at all is not an option.

Many ways for a start up to fail:

Overarchitecture failure – prevents / delays a company from putting out any product.

Friendster effect – Suffering a high-profile technical failure just when customer adoption is hoping wild.

You should engage in a little planning, but not too much. The problem with this willy-nilly approach is that it’s hard to give any rationale for why we should anticipate one particular problem but ignore another.

A process / program can evolve organically out of a methodical approach to evolving the process. This process of orientation was subject to constant experimentation and revision so that it grew more effective – and less burdensome – over time. This is building an adaptive organisation, one that automatically adjusts its process and performance to current conditions.

Toyota proverb “Stop production so that production never has to stop”. The key to the andon cord is that it brings work to a stop as soon as an uncorrectable quality problem surface – which forces it to be investigated.

You cannot trade quality for time.

If you are causing quality problems now, the resulting defects will slow you down later. Defects cause a lot of rework, low morale, and customer complaints, all of which slow progress and eat away at valuable resources.

The Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop is a continuous process. We don’t stop after one minimum viable product but use what we have learned to get to work immediately on the next iteration.

Shortcuts taken in product quality, design, or infrastructure today may wind up slowing a company down tomorrow.

Having a low-quality product can inhibit learning when the defects prevent customers from experiencing (giving feedback on) the product’s benefits. More mainstream customers are much less forgiving than early adopters.

When you’re going too fast, you cause more problems. Adaptive processes force you to slow down and invest in preventing the kinds of problems that are currently wasting time.

5 Whys

The core idea of Five Whys is to tie investments directly to the prevention of the most problematic symptoms.

You simply ask the question “Why” five times, to take you to the root cause. At the root of every seemingly technical problem is a human problem.

If the outage is a minor glitch, its essential that we make only a minor investment in fixing it.

The Five Whys approach acts as a natural speed regulator. As the investments in infrastructure or process pay off, the severity and number of crises are reduced and the team speeds up again.

The Five Whys ties the rate of progress to learning, not just execution.

The Five Whys coupled with working in small batches provides the foundation a company needs to respond quickly to problems as they appear, without overinvesting or over-engineering.

The goals of the Five Whys is to help us see the objective truth that chronic problems are caused by bad process, not bad people, and remedy them accordingly.

If a mistake happens, shame on us for making it so easy to make that mistake. This is a mantra that should be repeated by senior people in the room.

Simple rules of conducting  5 Whys

  1. Be tolerant of all mistakes the first time
  2. Never allow the same mistake to be made twice

Most mistake are caused by flawed systems, not bad people.

Whenever something goes wrong, ask yourself: How could I prevent myself from being in this situation ever again?

Process, Product, and Technology changes that enable working in smaller batches.

Genchi Gembutsu (means Go and See, in order to truly understand a situation one needs to go to genba (or the real place) where the work is done.

As Lean Start up’s grow, they can use adaptive techniques to develop more complex processes without giving up their core advantage: speed through Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.

Both successful start up’s and established companies alike must learn to juggle multiple kinds of work at the same time, pursing operational excellence and disruptive innovation.


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