Analogy from “The Lean Startup” for any Lean Journey?
As I’m reading the new book by Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, I’m reading it with an eye for concepts that can be applied more broadly than traditional startup settings.
There’s a segment on page 21 (readable via Google Books) that talks about driving a car versus launching a rocket ship. Ries writes that driving a car includes a feedback loop between the driver and the steering wheel that’s “so automatic that we often don’t think about it.”
Is starting a planning a Lean program for your organization more like driving a car or launching a rocket?
Ries continues with his car analogy in writing that “if I asked you to close your eyes and write down exactly how to get to your office… you’d find it impossible. The choreography of driving is incredibly complex when one slows down to think about it.”
In describing rocket launching (and Lean is decidedly NOT rocket science), Ries writes that a rocket ship requires precise planning and calibration, that “it must be launched with the most precise instructions on what to do: every thrust, every firing of a booster, and every change in direction.” He adds that the tiniest error at launch can lead to catastrophic results.
In a thought that could maybe apply to an organization’s planning for the launch of a formal Lean program, Ries adds:
“Unfortunately, too many startup business plans look more like they are planning to launch a rocket ship than drive a car,” including too much “excruciating detail” and too many assumptions.”
I’ve seen many organizations that want to be able to plan a 3-year or 5-year “Lean journey” in such excruciating detail, as if the perfect plan (often lifted from another organization’s Lean history) will prevent error or the risk of failure. Following from the idea in Mike Rother’s book Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. Rother writes that organizations need to be “adaptive” in their approach, realizing that we can’t have or know a precise plan to get from where we are to where we want to be.
Similarly, Ries argues that a startup needs to be like driving a car. You “always have a clear idea of where you’re going” and you “don’t give up because there’s a detour in the road or you made a wrong turn. You remain thoroughly focused on getting to your destination.”
So it seems neither Ries nor Rother are saying “just wing it” or “don’t have a vision.” I think they’re in agreement that you can’t plan every detail in advance like the launch of a rocket ship. We need to be adaptive and flexible. We need to persevere. Maybe time spent learning to be adaptive and resilient is better than time spent planning the perfect plan since that plan will necessarily change as we go?
Can a hospital, at the start of a Lean journey starting today, really predict the external factors that will change in the next 3 to 5 years? Can they predict what adjustments they’ll need to make in their Lean journey? Ries says, “Build – Measure – Learn” (as a loop similar to PDCA/PDSA) – see this photo I took at his MIT talk in late 2009.
Maybe Lean journeys need to be seen in a similar loop. You start somewhere. You measure progress and gauge what works well and what doesn’t. You Learn. You apply those learnings to your previous steps and you incorporate those learnings into your path forward in other departments and value streams.
What do you think?