Leadership Management

How to Lose Your Business Weight Through Lean Thinking

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Many of us enter the New Year with a new you mentality. We notice the extra pounds that have accumulated on our waistlines and commit to a new diet and exercise regime.

However, we may not be aware that our weight loss journey requires customization because we have different metabolisms, dietary needs, and lifestyles, which can impact our progress.

As the months pass, we realize that we have plateaued or, worse yet, gained weight. Nevertheless, we persevere, and instead of giving up, we reflect on why our strategy may not work, make small changes that align with our unique needs, and try again. As time goes on and our bodies acclimate, we reevaluate our strategy and tweak our plan to continue improving.

Interestingly, this weight loss journey is similar to the entrepreneur’s strategy for building and growing a lean business. Instead of maintaining strict, serial boundaries for business growth, like the legacy waterfall method, we perform parallel efforts to shape a flexible strategy while we take action.

So, What Exactly Is the Lean Method?

Steve Blank, consulting associate professor at Stanford, explained that the lean business model encompasses a build, measure, and learn feedback loop that harnesses experimentation, collaboration, and iteration cycles. Through this refine and test approach, entrepreneurs minimize wasting resources – like time and money – and continue to improve their products and services while increasing efficiencies and decreasing cycle times.

One interesting thing to note here is that even though scholars describe the lean methodology as a feedback loop of iterative cycles, the activities encompassed in the cycles can function harmoniously in any order. In other words, we can learn, build and measure at any stage because the lean process shapes a malleable framework that integrates iterative and incremental progress at its core.

Let me explain.

  • Lean thinking begins with our vision.  Our business assumptions stem from our vision and become the hypotheses used in our experimentation test cases.
  • Experimentation helps us learn and grow.  The outcomes of our experiments are the pathways to discovering more about our customer’s behaviors and providing critical input into our business approach.
  • Collaboration requires communication vis-à-vis.  Collaboration involves hitting the streets and talking to customers, vendors, suppliers, and other stakeholders to gain insight into their needs and identify new ideas.
  • Iterations allow us to validate or refute our assumptions.  The outcomes of our experiments and the input received from stakeholder collaboration are the bread and butter of our exercise in validation through iteration. We learn how our initial strategy impacted our customers – through collaboration and trial and error – and grow by realigning our assumptions – through product iterations.
  • Progress amid failure.  Despite our best efforts, we must remember that no matter how seasoned an entrepreneur we are, we cannot foresee all possible outcomes because uncertainties and unknowns are inherent in startups. Fortunately, and perhaps luckily, failure is an acceptable and essential component of the lean methodology.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have this same concession in our weight loss journey?

The lean methodology’s flexible business framework provides an environment where we can rapidly deduce information and determine whether to persevere through or pivot from our business strategy. Lean thinking sets an expectation of learning and growing through failure by demonstrating and celebrating progress amid failure. I am not necessarily saying that we should throw a party when we fail, but in our failure, we can pinpoint what we have learned about our initial assumptions.

The critical learning that transpires from our failures can lead to revolutionary growth, which is why failure is such an exciting feature of the lean method. However, progress through failure requires a willingness to alter our business decisions (persevere or pivot) based on the information that the data uncovers and is fundamentally an exercise of wisdom and courage. We exhibit wisdom by utilizing objective data for our experiments and identifying the truth that manifests in the metrics compiled from our data. We demonstrate courage when we align our efforts and activities with those metrics despite our personal feelings and desires.

Actionable and Objective Metrics Lead to Valid Solutions

The ultimate purpose of metrics is to drive our business decisions, and as scholars worldwide attest, not all metrics are equal. Objective data comes from our utilization of actionable versus vanity metrics. Our metrics must be derived from honest and authentic data sets, or they can hide critical information. Further, we need to identify specific metrics to focus on, or we risk becoming victims of what quality expert’s coined paralysis by analysis – in which we only focus on metrics and never take action to improve. Through the lenses of objective and focused metrics, we see the truth in the numbers. We can accurately interpret causal relationships that are the true drivers of our specific business outcomes.

So, How Do We Lean Up Our Business Waistlines?

Dr. Antonio Ghezzi, Professor of Strategic Management in Milan, explained that entrepreneurs must translate their business assumptions into falsifiable hypotheses to create an objective and opportunistic experimentation platform. In other words, we must become scientists in our business, removing all traces of confirmation biases as we establish our hypotheses. We must be willing to honestly and objectively challenge our assumptions through creative lenses to validate our outcomes.

  • Strategy 1: Create challenging business assumptions for your experiments.  Lean scholars recognize the plethora of business and managerial frameworks available for entrepreneurs, such as agile, waterfall, and lean. While aspects of these theories are reasonable, as Ries explained, in the lean environment, it is critical to remember that the goal of the venture is to create new value rather than to deliver a fully optimized product. This idea defies logic for many entrepreneurs and leaders alike because it requires them to present solutions to customers that may contain flaws or defects. The good news is that the lean strategy builds flexibility and rapid change into its core.
  • Strategy 2: Develop a malleable framework that accepts and appreciates the value of growth and learning amid failure.  As many lean proponents contend, our entrepreneurial journey must be free of the fear of disclosure. We should not hide our ideas in a vacuum until they are perfect before we introduce them to our customers. As Ries and Patz pointed out, our goal is to build a prototype mimicking customer behaviors so that we can make progress. How better to improve than conversing with the people who will use the product?
  • Strategy 3: Enhance and prosper through unguarded conversation.  Managers and leaders alike can agree that metrics matter. Some people may even admit that their organizations could use more forthcoming metrics to communicate project status. Advocates of the lean methodology opine on the critical necessity for objectivity in data. While we all want our ideas and visions to come to fruition, we cannot allow our desires for success to overshadow our ability or willingness to recognize faults in our products.
  • Strategy 4: Maintain objectivity through actionable, honest, and authentic metrics.  There you have it, four easy strategies for implementing your lean startup! Right? I am kidding. These strategies may be challenging, but you should now be able to recognize the opportunistic value inherent in them. The best part is that progress amid failure is truly a success in the lean methodology; so do not be afraid to take that first step!

Make Your Lean Mantra “Win-Win!”

The genesis of innovation is our entrepreneurial vision; however, successful innovation arises from exposing deficiencies in the assumptions that we create from our vision. We must be open to failure, recognizing that failure is ultimately our path to success, even if that success is a 180-degree pivot rather than unwavering perseverance.

In the lean build-measure-learn feedback loop, we develop falsifiable hypotheses from our vision and conduct experiments that challenge our business assumptions. From these results, in combination with stakeholder collaboration and the truths revealed in our actionable metrics, we discover defects and opportunities and make iterations to our assumptions and designs. Remember to embrace all lean phases of your business weight loss journey – failure, success, pivoting, persevering, iterating, collaborating, and objectivity – because no matter how disappointed you may feel about your results, every step leads toward progress.


About the Author

Lisa N. DeVore is a, Air Force Veteran, Strategic Leadership doctoral student, and Systems Engineering Manager with over 25 years experience in the government sector. She currently resides and works in South Korea. Connect with her on DeVore LinkedIn

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