Talking Lean Startup with Eric Ries, and relating it to BPM

Scott Francis
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Well it was quite an honor to be invited to ask Eric Ries a few questions about Lean Startup on behalf of IBM’s Entrepreneur Week (starting February 3rd, 2014!)

One of the things I love about Lean Startup is that it has so many parallels to the world of BPM.  For example, when I asked him about the pushback or blowback on terminology like “pivot”, his response really resonated with a BPM practitioner (as well as entrepreneur) like myself:

“Fundamentally, Lean Startup is not about jargon, it is not about jargon, it is about whatever works. People sometimes say how will lean startup evolve to take into account new discoveries in the future.  That’s easy – because we stand for whatever works for entrepreneurs. If it works, then that’s lean startup and if it doesn’t work then it is rejected – automatically.”

This is a key issue for BPM as well.  How will BPM survive the next technology wave?  Easy, it will incorporate what works and discard what doesn’t.  How will it survive the next “TQM” or “Six Sigma” – easy, if it works, BPM will figure out how to incorporate that into the approach.

Eric espouses a pragmatic “go do the hard work” approach to Lean Startup:

“Focus on the work, and get stuff done. Then after it works, years from now when you’re very successful with it then that’s a good time to go back and tell everyone what worked for you.”

Great advice for BPM practitioners as well.

But going back to jargon…

“I will offer one caveat. Within your team, the people who have to work done together every day. It is important to have good terminology for the things that you’re talking about. Think about, as engineers, what would happen if we didn’t have good terminology to refer to the elements of our system.”

This is why, to some extent, definitions really matter, though it may not make sense for you to spend time arguing them in LinkedIn forums or Hacker News.  But within your team, a common language and terminology can greatly improve collaboration – and for something like Lean Startup or BPM, where iterative learning is so important, getting the terminology confused can really slow you down.

Steve Jobs would have loved this quote from Eric:

“We’re both right. It is true that customers don’t know what they want. As visionaries it is our responsibility, our obligation to articulate that vision on behalf of customers even if they don’t understand.”

And what is the difference between a vision and a hallucination?  Eric nails it:

“The difference between vision and hallucination is what happens when you test the vision to find out if it is really true. It might be true that customers don’t know what they want, but it is true that they will want the thing once you show it to them.  You have to be willing to put your vision to the test.”

This is exactly what BPM practitioners should be doing – testing the vision, the “gut” for the process improvements with real measurements.

We also had a great discussion of food trucks!