Lean Thinking – What’s in a Name?

If you are working on a start-up, or have an established business that is ‘going digital’, and you have been able to pop up for air long enough to get engaged with incubators, meet-ups, jams or webinars, you will have noted the terms ‘bootstrapping’ and ‘fail fast’ being bandied about (among many, many others…slide deck anyone?).

For the newcomer to the start-up world, it can be a bit overwhelming to be faced with a whole load of jargon when you are just trying to get an idea off the ground, or get your head around what a digital strategy looks like. Never fear, like all jargon, it can be unpacked into plain language. My next few posts will breakdown what the jargon means and how you might apply it to your organisation .

Both ‘bootstrapping’ and ‘fail fast’ belong to the school of ‘lean thinking’ – which is becoming a mainstream methodology for creating disruptive enterprise – and they actually mean nearly exactly what they sound like (hooray!).

Bootstrapping: describes a self-starting process that goes ahead without external inputs, usually without significant third party investment (think ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’…a shoestring budget may also come to mind).

Fail fast: describes the approach to early-stage business and/or product development that encourages the rapid testing of new ideas in order to discard the ones that don’t work early (before market launch). Some take issue with the ‘fail’ part of this and instead encourage people to think of it as your bog standard scientific process – hypothesis, test, results. If your results don’t match you hypothesis, you don’t have a solution.

‘Lean thinking’ itself was coined in the 1980s, to describe Toyota’s business during the late 1980s by a research team headed by Jim Womack, PhD at MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program. It was used to describe Toyota maximized customer value, while minimizing waste of both money (capital) and time (human resources).

In a nutshell, lean thinking is always coming back to the ‘three p’s’:

Purpose: What customer/client problems are you solving? Important that this is real-world needs, not wants. Wants might work for a while, but it is unlikely to make your business sustainable.

Process:  How will you assess each major value stream to make sure each step is adding value and able to be modified where necessary. Or put another way, are you testing as you go so that you ‘fail’ in-house or in front of a select group before launching to market.

People: Are you utilizing the input of everyone to ensure that whatever you are trying to do is operating correctly and being continually improved. Because the feedback loop is really important for anything!

So, using minimal resources (bootstrapping), you can apply the process of ‘fail fast’, or testing, to solve a customer problem (your purpose) while leveraging the input of all the people involved in the delivery of the innovation to continually improve it.

Get In Touch with me if you want to discuss how we can use this style of thinking for your organisation or great idea!


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