Lean Learnings with Eric Ries

Lean Learnings with Eric Ries

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Eric Ries on the phone for an hour. He is the author of the very much recommended Lean Enterprise and Lean Startup.

I had the opportunity to pick his brain about validated learning, applying lean startup principles to a large organization, and some nitty gritty around agile and engineering practices.

First, let me say Eric is a sharp guy. His ability to communicate with from the philosophical sense and then jump into the weeds of real world tactics is impressive. His message is well articulated in his books so I will not go into that here. But I will share a couple tidbits that were excellent.

  1. Experimenting with customers can be scary because we don't want to disappoint or mislead them. Eric recommends an honest approach. And if a product or feature needs to be shut down because the experiment has failed for your business and not necessarily because a customer doesn't value it then find ways to compensate. Empathy goes a long way, but even paying cash can make a customers happy and be of lower cost than the indirect cost of a disgruntled customer.

  2. Ownership, alignment, and context instead of control are key for baking validated learning into engineering practices. A manager pushing and prodding is less effective then baking lean principles into the system. A few examples: implement continuous delivery and deployment freezes for failed builds. Engineers will quickly find that building and shipping smaller increments of change is much better than having to debug merge conflicts and failed builds due to long lived branches. Another goodie: on your sprint board add a final column called "Validate" before stories are closed. Make the acceptance criteria something measurable about the business or customer impact. Like: This feature should reduce latency by x. Or check in with the customer that requested the feature for their UAT feedback. Or verify with marketing that the feature moved the needle via an A/B experiment as expected.

I highly recommend reading Eric's books and following his writing.