6 ways you’re going to screw up your Lean product development programme in 2016

Lean product development is a great thing. You should be using it. If you’re just getting going, these are the most common 6 ways we, at Fluxx, have messed it up in the past 5 years of learning, so please feel free to not follow in our footsteps.


1. You’re not sure what problem or opportunity you’re addressing (e.g. you just have a general brief like — ‘making customers happier when they shop online’). Themes like this are valuable for defining overall direction and scope but you need a measurable hypothesis if you’re going to make good progress and great products (e.g. ‘We believe we can improve and maintain post-purchase NPS by 10pts by setting clearer expectations for product delivery with customers’). Have a clear hypothesis. Build an MVP. Learn whether you were right.

2.You don’t have at least one senior supporter. Lean involves doing things quickly with customers. Most large companies have evolved structures which have been put in place precisely to stop you doing things quickly with customers. We’ve worked with enterprises with ‘cycle times’ up to 2 years long before a new product has the first customer contact. Don’t start your Lean programme (or don’t tell anyone you’ve started) until you’ve got a senior sponsor. Without this person you’re never going to be able to make bold progress. Find them, stalk them. Win them over.

3.You don’t get risk/compliance bought in. You’re going to need these people in your tent at some stage in your Lean programme, better to start on day 1. Some of the best people we’ve worked with have come from a compliance/risk background. The most valuable are those that understand the spirit and not just the letter of the external and internal constraints on your product. Make friends with them, they will be so pleasantly surprised by this that they will help you.

4.You can’t resist perfecting your new product or service. There is no point perfecting something that nobody wants. Set a deadline for customer contact. Stick to it. Test and learn and go again. If you’re worried about quality, launch a good, small thing — but launch something. You’ve achieved exactly nothing until you’ve launched a product to customers.

5.You ‘interpret’ customer feedback. Just listen to it. Remember you’re doing this to learn. Including learning if your product or service is not what customers want. It is easy when customers don’t buy something to convince yourself that they don’t ‘understand’ it. It’s amazing how involved and protective a team becomes of its product. Don’t get so attached to it you can’t listen to customer feedback.

6.You can’t resist improving the standard Lean methodology. Like its cousin ‘agile’ most big companies and many snake oil consultants can’t resist creating their own special versions of Lean. Please trust us, you are not improving it. It was called Lean for a reason. At its best you are wasting effort you could better spend on the product, at its worst you are breaking the methodology (witness the many attempts to make hybrid agile-waterfall methods, and this wisdom from Reed who have been down and back up this road on the way to somewhere better). Lean isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

It may seem that’s a lot of things to think about, but the many joys of Lean make these potential pitfalls look trivial. The most common reaction we find on introducing Lean programmes to enterprises is “wow — how did we do so much, so fast?”


See more like this in our book “Unthinkable: the culture and politics of getting innovation wrong” serialised on our website or learn more aboutFluxx.