The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is the book that spawned a movement, and is widely regarded as the start-up manual of choice by would-be tech millionaires. This is the book that popularised the term Minimum Viable Product, introduced the term ‘to pivot’ and espoused the concept of validated learning as the main measure of progress for tech start-ups. However, notwithstanding its success, I feel that Ries’ approach could be a bit more nuanced. Agile software development lends itself very well to the rapid, iterative development necessary to create new product releases to test various hypothesis, and Ries is clearly a fan. At one point he calls waterfall methodologies as being completely maladapted for today’s rapidly changing business environment, prematurely dissing an approach that has continues to serve several industries very well. The rapid and frequent release of new products is only viable where the cost of doing so is very low, something which is true for web and app development, but less so in other industries.
Nevertheless, this book deserves the accolades it has received. Ries’ relentless focus on validating the business and market assumptions as early as possible can save any business, large or small, from unnecessary waste of resources. There can be few denizens of the world of product development in large companies who haven’t wasted years on products that bomb. The Build-Measure-Learn Cycle is a robust and validated approach to innovation management, the use of small batch sizes increases development velocity and the emphasis on strong cross-functional product development is something that many functionally-organised companies can learn from. Companies looking to foster a culture of innovation and adaptive product development can do a lot worse than adopting the core principles espoused by Ries. The support of companies like GE and Qualcomm to this method suggest that this will be more than just a passing fad.