Getting Lean

Is it just me, or is lean process trending?

I recently read a great Harvard Business Review article on the lean startup. According to HBR, lean:

…favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development.

It also includes the ideas of the “minimum viable product” and the decide –> experiment –> learn –> iterate cycle.

Per the HBR article, lean is built on three truths:

  1. All you have to start with are untested hypothesis, aka “good guesses.” And investing a lot of time in crafting a detailed five-year business plan based on “good guesses” is a fool’s errand.
  2. Your good guesses will never be more than that until you actually start interacting with your potential customers. So the sooner you start talking to them, the better. Yes, before you actually have a product to show them.
  3. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get a product out there, even if – especially if – it’s still in beta and plan to make improvements immediately and continually.

Lean also requires us to be transparent. No more operating in secrecy until you have everything just right – invite your customers in as part of your design and development process, with the goal of making your product better.

How does this all apply to associations?

Associations Now recently addressed that, with an article looking at lean process in associations. The AN article addresses the more old-school concept of lean manufacturing, developed by the Japanese after WWII, which focuses on eliminating waste and redundancy.

While I get that eliminating waste and redundancy is important, particularly in typically thinly-resourced tax exempt organizations, if we stop there, we’re missing the good stuff.

I think the most important thing for us to remember is that, at the beginning of any new program, product, or service all we have are good guesses. Admitting that publicly and celebrating it is the key to everything that follows. It grants us tremendous freedom, because it removes a lot of the ego involved in decision making, allowing us to have more than one good guess and to know right from the beginning that they aren’t all going to work out. If you’re just making an educated guess that you know you’re going to have to test, it removes all the pressure to be 100% right 100% of the time.

What could your association accomplish if you could be free to guess, test, and learn?


One thought on “Getting Lean”

  • I definitely agree that more associations should implement this format. I have successfully used it at a large regional healthcare facility and see it in action where my daughter works in PA. Very effective IF the leadership is supportive.

Comments are closed.