Lean Startup? Use Kanban! Maybe Scrum

Just finished Lean Startup Machine this past weekend and would like to connect the dots between Lean Startup and Agile.

Lean Startup: How to Learn fast about Customers, their Problems and Solutions

Lean Startup is a powerful approach for learning quickly about who your customer is and what problems they have and what solutions they value. The diagram below illustrates how it follows the scientific method: hypothesis, experiment, conclusions. As an entrepreneur or Product Manager, you keep running the cycle until you find out who your customers are (what market demographic), what their burning problem is and what solutions people will pay for.

The whole point is to learn quickly to avoid building more products that no one really cares about.

The biggest challenge with Lean Startup is not that the approach doesn’t work, but that we as human beings are so conditioned to think about products and systems that it is difficult to let go and just explore customers and their problems. Validated learning about customers is not optional.

What about Agile?

Steve Blank’s second commandment in his Manifesto for Customer Development is: “Pair Customer Development with Agile Development”. But how to make sense of this?

Agile Pre-supposes Customers and Problems are known

Agile is mindset and approach that supports building great teams and great products. It pre-supposes that there is someone who knows what needs to be built:

  • In Extreme Programming this is the onsite Customer.
  • In Scrum this is the Product Owner.
So, it’s not about whether Lean Startup is better or worse than Agile, it is more a question of what kind of environment you are working in.
N.B. Agile extensions such as Innovation Games® provide amazing support for understanding customer problems as well as building great hypotheses.

Use Kanban for Most Startups

Kanban is a powerful toolkit that supports visualization of work and is a very lightweight Agile method. It is well-suited to startup environments characterized by uncertainty and quick feedback loops. It can be used to manage what hypothesis are in progress or are being tested with live clients via A/B testing. It is  really easy to get started with a wall and sticky notes or tooling if your team is distributed (e.g. Trello or LeanKit Kanban).

Consider Scrum for Large Projects

Sometimes the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) will require a substantial amount of work to complete. In this situation, where the customer, problem and solution have been validated, then it may make sense to take advantage of Scrum as a powerful team and product container to provide focus.

We Won Lean Startup Machine Toronto

My big take-aways from Lean Startup Machine are the learnings, but it was great to be part of the winning team.

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