What’s Wrong with “What’s Wrong With the Lean Start-up”
A few years back, I coined a really bad acronym: L.A.M.E. One of the things it can mean is “Lean As Mistakenly Explained.” It's inevitable to see articles about the Lean Startup methodology that fit into this category (or maybe L.S.A.M.E.???).
The Inc. article “What's Wrong With the Lean Start-up” has a number of flaws and bad assumptions that would put the article into the L.S.A.M.E. category, as well as L.A.M.E. Ironically, the author of the piece, Jon Burgstone, teaches entrepreneurship at Berkeley — is he hanging out with fellow Cal professor Steve Blank, a guru in this methodology? It seems not.
Burgstone starts with a L.A.M.E. manufacturing description:
The lean idea stems from the Toyota Production System (TPS), which was first developed after WWII, and which continues to be refined. The goal of the system is to reduce waste in the production process. Techniques such as kanban and eventually ISO-9000 emerged to improve efficiency and repeatability.
ISO-9000 emerged from Lean??? Oh dear Lord, it's already game over with this article. ISO has completely different roots and often gets in the way of Lean implementations, rather than being a part of Lean. Burgstone says he is a former ISO auditor… he seems to know more about ISO than Lean.
Burgstone continues with the L.A.M.E.:
TPS is designed to produce a system that can churn out millions of copies of a product with consistently high quality.
There's the old falsehood that Lean is just about mindless cranking out tons of identical widgets — that's not even true at Toyota. Burgstrom makes Lean sound like a robotic execution system instead of a people-driven improvement and problem solving system. Lean works in healthcare precisely because it's NOT about cranking out widgets.
Burgstone can, as he does in the article, take issue with the Lean Startup concepts of Minimum Viable Product and Innovation Accounting – there's room for healthy debate about those approaches. But, he shouldn't get it so wildly wrong about Lean.
He ends the piece with this claptrap:
However, entrepreneurship and innovation are not paint-by-numbers activities. Company founders need to thinkâ€”and be smarterâ€”about their new ventures. And that does mean entrepreneurs must be resourceful, adaptable, and learn from what doesn't work. But trying to follow a system designed to produce a million identical, high-quality Corollas, Camrys, and Siennas makes very little sense.
I've never heard anybody in the Lean Startup movement say that the method is cookbook entrepreneurship. Far from it. You need vision and you need to be adaptable and flexible.
When Burgstrom says “entrepreneurs must be resourceful, adaptable, and learn from what doesn't work” — that's exactly what the Lean Startup approach preaches — resourcefulness, adaptability, and learning.
It's the pinnacle of L.S.A.M.E. to criticize Lean Startup for being the exact thing that it's not!!!
I wrote this post mainly because Inc's commenting functionality seems to not always load, but this comment from Andy Dobson captures it more succinctly than I did:
A MASSIVE misrepresentation of Lean and its principles!