7 things I learned at Lean Day: West

Posted on September 19, 2013.
The attendees of Lean Day: West
The attendees of Lean Day: West

Earlier this week we put on Lean Day: West in Portland, OR. The goal of the conference was to bring together practitioners of lean, agile, lean startup and lean ux from the enterprise and share their stories of success, failure and most importantly learning. Our hope was that every attendee would take away at least one tip, tactic, technique or method they could apply as soon as they got back to the office.

We had an amazing lineup of speakers including Greg Petroff from GE, Farrah Bostic from The Difference Engine, Lionel Mohri from Intuit, Bill Scott from Paypal, Emily Holmes from Hobsons, Jeff Hutkoff from The Weather Channel, Aaron Sanders from Co-Makers, Ben Burton from Corespring and Jono Mallanyk from Neo. Each presentation brought a different perspective on how to improve the product development process by focusing on the customer, objective outcomes and doing only what is necessary to move forward — all while navigating complex organizational hierarchies.

I learned a lot over the 2 and a half days and have summed up those learnings in the following seven thoughts:

  1. Lean can scale – if you needed any further proof that cross-functional agility and an organization-wide commitment to empowerment, waste reduction and great user experience can be achieved in a large organization, Greg Petroff from GE laid those doubts to rest. GE’s industrial internet design system empowers both GE’s designers AND their developers to prototype, prove out and create beautiful software tools.
  2. Lean crosses industries – on stage at Lean Day: West we had speakers from large manufacturing, media, education and financial services. All of them found ways to apply these ideas to their company and their audience.
  3. Perception of “roles” has to change – every success story shared at the conference focused on building cross-functional teams that respected *all* the skills each team  member brought to the group. The most successful teams didn’t focus on job titles or roles and didn’t limit each others’ contributions simply because it was “not in their job description.”
  4. Empower everyone – if there’s something a team member needs to do in order to move forward, provide them with the tools and the know-how to get that work done instead of making them dependent on other team members. This was a recurring theme.
  5. Be objective – each case study we heard centered on objective decision making based on pre-defined goals. These objectives were shared and bought in to by the teams so that when tough decisions needed to be made, they went much more smoothly.
  6. Don’t be afraid to throw things away – what’s worse – throwing away a half-built product you’ve proven won’t work for your audience or finishing and shipping it simply because you’ve come halfway? Throw it away – no matter how much you love it or how much has been sunk into it. If you’ve disproven something, be ruthless and dump it.
  7. Cultures have to shift – all of these ideals point to shifting cultures – even in big companies. Cultures will need to adjust to be more forgiving and promote experimentation. They’ll need to adjust by empowering the teams to make decisions without seeking approval. They’ll need to adjust by being objective and focusing on specific customer and business outcomes. This will take a while.

A huge thanks to all of our attendees, speakers and staff for such a wonderful. Follow @neo_innovation to learn about future events.