Can you practice Lean Startup in the Enterprise?

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Last week at the inaugural The Lean Event in Brighton, England I gave a new talk called Scaling Lean: Project, Program, Portfolio. You can see the slides here. In the talk I discussed the challenges of scaling Lean Startup practices in large companies. Despite all the talk of wanting to act like startups and build/measure/learn when it comes time to plan work, disburse budgets and assign work most companies fall back on the command-and-control methods they’ve been using for years. Why is it so hard to scale Lean Startup in big orgs? Can it be done?

In my presentation, I argue that it is possible and frame scaling across 3 dimensions:

  1. Project — How do we incorporate more learning into each initiative?
  2. Program — How do we coordinate multiple discovery/delivery efforts focused on the same goal?
  3. Portfolio — How do we coordinate multiple programs, enforce governance and meet shareholder expectations?

While there are many challenges to each one of those questions the root of successful scaling of Lean Startup is not scaling processes. Instead, it’s creating a series of principles for the way you’d like your teams to work and then allowing them to self-organize around those principles. In my presentation I discussed what I believe to be the 4  most important principles for scaling Lean (and Agile) in the enterprise:

[Tweet “Customer value = business value”]

  1. Customer value = business value — this is the belief that if we make our customers successful, our business will be successful. This is a surprisingly rare belief in many companies. 
  2. Value learning over delivery — this principle drives home the point that discovery is as important as shipping features since shipping something nobody wants (or can use) holds no value
  3. Radical transparency — a culture of openness, disclosure and sharing is one that encourages learning, collaboration and trust. 
  4. Humility in all things — ultimately, we can’t predict the future of our products nor our business. We make our best guesses about what we believe to be true. This is fine as long as we’re open to changing our minds in the face of strong evidence. 

The presentation includes many tactics for how to start living these principles. I encourage you to check it out. 

What have you seen work in scaling Lean Startup in the Enterprise?

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