As a more recent PM methodology, the term "lean startup" is credited as first appearing on Eric Ries' blog in 2008. In the midst of the high-turnover startup movement, Ries evangelized the need for fiscal responsibility and increased production speed in order to decrease the number of failed startups. The idea caught on like wildfire, spreading to entrepreneurs all over the globe.
The #1 priority of running Lean PM is to eliminate wasted resources, known as mura. Extra labor, extra time, and extra materials that don't add value to the product or service — they all need to go. Focus on getting something in front of the customer quickly and without spending all your money.
So how can you decide what resources you're wasting in order to run lean?
Declare Your MVP
Before you can run lean, you must find your MVP — your Minimum Viable Product. It is the smallest number of features that need to be developed in order to push your product or service to your early adopters.
Focus all your time, energy, and money on developing just your MVP, and nothing else. Yes, that means your product or service won't be completely evolved to fulfill all your dreams or the product roadmap, but it will be functional. With it, you can start learning and earning — learning about customers' needs as they interact with your MVP, and earning money to expand upon the rest of your ideas.
If your resources are going into developing an extra feature beyond the MVP ("It's just a little thing, it won't take much!") you are wasting time, manpower, and money. And you could be setting yourself up as the next failed startup. Every second and every dollar counts.
You'll have time to expand upon the rest of your ideas later, but for now, speed is essential. Focus on getting something out there so that you can move on to the next step: improving your product through validated learning.
Finding your MVP is not the end of the Lean PM. Eliminating mura is not enough for success. Startups fail because they don't create a process to measure progress, learn from mistakes, and improve for the future.
Once you 1. BUILD your MVP, you need to 2. MEASURE customer response and feedback, and then 3. LEARN from that feedback and change your plans accordingly.
Only give customers what they want. If they don't want it, then they won't pay for it, and you're risking failure by wasting resources to build something customers don't want. Every time you create something new or add a new feature, you must measure and learn to see if the planned next step should actually still be the next step.
Remember, time is a resource too, and it's not on your side. Ries said, "Startups that succeed are those that manage to iterate enough times before running out of resources." You should be constantly evaluating your work-process breakdown to make sure you are only spending resources where necessary. This is true even after rolling out your initial MVP. Lean PM is not temporary!
There are many great resources out there that go into depth about Lean project management and how you can implement it for your startup to do more with less. I recommend checking out these three:
theleanstartup.com The official website created by Eric Ries. It details the 5 principles of Lean PM and gives you great case studies from companies who ran lean and are succeeding.
The Lean Startup The book written by Eric Ries about his Lean startup movement. Even MORE detail than the website, it gives you Ries' recommendations for running lean and staying viable.
Running Lean Written by author Ash Maurya, with feedback from Eric Ries, this book of strategies breaks up the steps for successfully running lean — from creating your initial idea, to testing, to choosing the perfect time to raise funding.
If you find your MVP and establish a process to learn from your customers, you have fought half the battle. It is difficult. Lean PM is a constant war against the urge to "add just one little thing" and spend time on side projects. But stick to your testing — if the customers don't want it now, you shouldn't build it!
If you've ever thought about running lean, have tried and failed, or you are successfully running Lean PM at your company now, tell everyone about your Lean adventure in the comments. There's no better teacher than first-hand experience, and we'd love to learn from you.