Running Lean

"The key takeaway from Lean Startup can best be summed up around the concept of using smaller, faster iterations for testing a vision."

- Running Lean, page XXIII

Anyone who has tried anything more significant than making breakfast knows that plan “A” is often overly optimistic. Plan “B” is a little better. By plan “D” or “J” something actually comes together. If you are like me, you’ll need a lot of letters in the alphabet before you find a plan that truly works. Running Lean is written to help people find a plan that works faster and with less cost than simple trial and error.

Running Lean is part of the “Start-up” family of books. Packed with pithy, Tweetable content, it offers a mix of basic and specific advice for entrepreneurs.

It is written primarily to help those developing software or online products to figure out what products to create and what customers might buy them. Everyone else will have to adapt the information. Thankfully that is pretty easy to do.

I don’t write code or have anything to sell online. This book got me thinking about it, though. I now have a roadmap to help me start if and when I go in that direction.

The beauty of the book, however, was its insistence on learning by talking to customers. My main field of work could not be farther from online products. I am a pastor of a church. But I will tell you one thing for certain: The biggest problem churches have is that they don’t listen to people. Educators have the same problem. So do realtors, salesmen and CEO’s. Really, learning efficiently is a problem for every influencer. You may want to influence buying behaviors, employee performance or life-long beliefs. Regardless, you will have to listen. Listening leads to learning which leads to a workable plan.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Starting anything worthwhile requires humble listening

"Most Plan A’s don’t work"
- Running Lean, page 4

Learning and listening require the belief that I don’t have all the answers. Running Lean is all about learning and learning from other people.

Author Ash Maurya summarizes the book this way: “The essence of Running Lean can be distilled into three steps: Document your Plan A. Identify the riskiest parts of your plan. Systematically test your plan.”

You can listen without learning anything. He maintains that you must come up with a falsifiable hypothesis to test. If your hypothesis can’t be falsified, it can’t be confirmed and you won’t learn what you need. The goal of a startup is not growing, but learning. If you learn the right things, growing will take care of itself.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Learn about your customers

"Customers don’t care about your solution. They care about their problems."
- Dave McClure, as quoted in Running Lean, page 7

First, you must learn about your customers. He advocates targeting early adopters. Ask early and often, “What do they need?” After all, “Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.”

It is naïve to think that customers will tell you what to do. He quotes Steve Jobs, “It is not the customer’s job to know what they want.” Henry Ford understood the same thing, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This is where the testable hypothesis comes in. Don’t look for opinions, look for actions. “Don’t ask customers what they want. Measure what they do.”

In summary he says, “Startups can consume years of your life, so pick a problem worth solving.”

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Learn what you are doing

"Be different, but make sure your difference matters."
- Running Lean, page 29

As mentioned before, “The initial goal of a startup is to learn, not to scale.” The learning is not merely about your customers, but about your business. What are you trying to do?

He adapts a one-page business model from some other source and calls it a “Lean Canvas.” This one-page business model includes not only your customers’ problems, but your solutions, your distribution plan, your “unfair advantage”, and your pricing strategy.

As I thought about a series of products I might launch in the future, it became obvious to me that I am going to end up guessing at everything. I may be good at wishing, but not at having a workable plan. Everything I would write on that “Lean Canvas” would be a guess. The fundamental tenet of Running Lean is “Your business model is not a dartboard.” This book came along at a good time for me.

While listening, testing and learning can seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be. Maurya maintains, “You can uncover 85% of your product’s problems with as few as five testers.” Find an action-based hypothesis. Test it with a few people.

Don’t assume. Learn. Adjust. Test again. Learn about problems. Find good solutions. Find ways to price and deliver the solutions. Test everything. Soon, in a matter of days or weeks, you will know what you need to have a workable plan and/or product.

So, what did I learn in reading Running Lean? I learned to quit guessing. Find ways to test every assumption. Whether it is an online product or a parenting class at church, I need to test my assumptions.

I also realized that I have to take responsibility for my own learning. Testing and listening are simple enough. They are just uncomfortable to do. They’re uncomfortable because I’m not humble enough to accept what I might find out. And, if I’m not humble enough to listen and learn, I may not be humble enough to succeed.

So, try this: Identify an assumption you are making. Phrase it in a way it can be confirmed or denied (testable hypothesis). Then ask some people.

What are you going to learn today?

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Scott Reavely

ABOUT Scott Reavely

I am husband to one, father to five. By day I am a pastor, by night a softball coach for 10 year-old girls. In my free time I serve on the board of Western Seminary...
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