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How to Run Lean and Agile at the Same Time?

Frameworks for projects delivery or products development are like multivitamin pills – they offer plethora of elements and compounds you can select from depending on your need or challenge. After years of practicing lean and agile frameworks I concluded that there is no conflict between the two – on the contrary, you can benefit from both in the same project depending on its stage and work requirements.

Nevertheless, let us start from the basics – fundamental approaches in project management are  either oriented on linearity, sequence orientation and processes, or  oriented on people, their expectations, priorities and management of dynamics related.

The first approach  used to be called waterfall approach, and it was well recognized in project management methodologies such as PMBOK, PRINCE, PRINCE 2 and Lean methods (all of them in recent years are incorporating principles from the second approach we will define in a second). The beauty and power of waterfall approach lies in orientation on sequence of the tasks to be performed and processes enabling them. Processes can be visualized (using e.g. Business Processes Modeling Notation language) – and what can be visualized can be discussed and improved. Switching the balance to the processes in waterfall approach makes work and teamwork constructive, if the team  acknowledge that seeing, analyzing and improving processes is what they should pursue.

I like the lean method due to its orientation on process improvement, and its mindset proving that whereas it is almost impossible to change other people’s minds, it is much more easy to agree on visualizing, aiming to understand and improve the process or solve the problem (especially so called root causes behind the problems) in continuous improvement environment. Key rituals and artifacts from lean approach I’ll keep forever, refer to them often and try to use daily are Kanban, Andon, 7/8 waste and 5/6 s. Andon is stopping the process where every next step could only accumulate defects spotted right on 7/8 waste is looking for and eliminating customer non-value adding activities from your work. To learn more about 5/6 philosophy try this lean game calculator available online and see short movie exemplifying waste elimination orientation in lean.

The second approach which proliferates worldwide in recent years used to be called agile (traditionally agility is defined as ability to move quickly, easily, intelligently). Project management methodologies in agile approach are much more than bodies of work or frameworks, as agility recommends allowing the context to determine deploying roles, rituals and tools from its repertoire. Recognized and respected agile product development methodologies  are Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (DSDM), Crystal and finally SCRUM. To feel the taste and right context of agile approaches I recommend you to imagine that there is a customer, which has some needs, let us call them requirements – and these requirements flow through your team. Now, in order to satisfy the customer and meet their requirements, you will organize iterative work (yes step-by-step with multiple feedback-loops and priority changes options). Key rituals and artifacts from agile approach that I try to use as often as possible are Kanban, asking for Voice of the Customer in the work (which in SCRUM is served by role of Product Owner), planning work using backlogs, and making it digestible in form of one or two week chunks (called in SCRUM sprint backlogs). Building your product basing on customer’s feedback in iterative way also key characteristic of lean start-up approach, which we wrote about some time ago (lean start-up method has much more to do with agility). Agile approaches welcome changing environment and circumstances gladly – they are oriented to respond to them quickly and effectively.

Using simplified sprint backlogs proved to me to be so effective that I even deployed it into other fields of my performance such as writing scholar papers with multiple teams and multiple quantity in the same time – SCRUM makes such contexts much more graspable and with feeling of control. I do not know any better introduction into SCRUM in timing less than 10 minutes than this movie – if you know such please do not hesitate to comment and share. One of the infographics that reflects agile approaches principles I like most can be found here. One of my favorite podcasts dedicated in great degree to understanding details of SCRUM is Manager Plus run by Mariusz Chrapko.

So – coming back to the title and beginning of this post – project delivery or product development methodologies are like multivitamin pills. Very often in one project you will work close with the customer to come out with solution (can be a new product or combination of products and services you already offer) – in this context you will benefit much from agile approach. In the same project, but at different stages like formal purchase, procurement or deployment of solution in customer’s organization you will need solid, understandable, replicable, process-oriented approach – and this is where you will benefit more using a  lean approach..

Practicing different project management methodologies, frameworks and bodies of work enabled me to formulate one more conclusion – related to managing polarities (famous management consulting concept with theoretical framework developed by B. Johnson in 90’s of XX century) where both waterfall approaches and agile approaches are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. Neither of them enables to face current business expectations on its own, and maybe business-wisdom is about trying to manage and leverage them appropriating benefits related?

What is your experience with running both lean and agile?

What Lean Start-up is About?

In recent years lean start-up approach gained recognition and has been widely used by entrepreneurs and start-ups offering products and services that have not yet been tested on the market.

So what lean start-up approach is about?

According to H. Love, author of The Start-Up J Curve, ideas represent only 5% of the total value of a new enterprise. What counts more than the original concept of the product are iterations  and customer feedback, which is worth more than customer sales. Therefore key idea of lean start-up approach is to expose early version of your product  to potential customers, to gather feedback, and to implement  rapid and possibly waste-free adjustments of your initial proposition to create something that is closer to what the customer really wants.

According to lean start-up approach the first step to create initial customer demand is to establish your Unique Value Proposal (UVP). UVP is nothing else than a list of problems that your product will solve for your customers, or the difference it will bring to the way customers problems are solved right now, and answer to the question why people should pay you for it. Once you create such a list you can interview your future customers.

To understand deeper what concrete aspects of your product  will satisfy your customers, you can use simple questionnaire or a Kano model, which provides structured framework for analysis of importance or each of your product’s  attributes. Results of analyses based on Kano model determine which attributes of the product  are responsible for “wow” factor, and which of them could be the source of frustration if not tackled properly.

Another approach often used in marketing of new products is conjoint analysis, which enables to holistically measure importance of your product attributes. Results of conjoint analysis will determine how important is each attribute and what trade-offs you can afford.

Once you establish your UVP you are ready to create Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that, according to lean start-up approach, is the first visualization of your UVP. In other words MVP is the first prototype, or even a mock-up consisting of schemes, pictures, slides and videos you can use in further interviewing and gathering feedback from your future customers.

Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean, Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works recommends lean start-up practitioners to work with future customers from the very beginning. In terms of minimum number of interviews with your future customers Ash Maurya recommends to meet with at least 10 prospective customers to talk about UVP—problems and challenges you plan to solve and planned features of the solution—and then, with another 10 once you revise your first UVP. After that, you should be pretty well equipped to create your first MVP, which you also need to demonstrate to at least 10 prospected customers to gather their feedback enabling you to revise your first MVP.

After these meetings you should revise your UVP according to feedback received, incl. adding, eliminating, or modifying certain features. In lean start-up approach you open up and talk to customers as much as possible to observe how they interact with your MVP so you can polish it before market launch.

Lean start-up approach can be useful in wide tapestry of businesses. Ash Maurya applied it to write his book. Once, approached by readers of his blog who suggested that he should turn his

posts into a book, he contacted some of them and interviewed them on problems that the book should solve, and the blog did not. He created UVP by organizing workshops to gather feedback of more blog readers, who were potential customers. Then he wrote book in stages—first chapters of the book were his MVP. They have been released at early stage of final product creation, so he gathered feedback and reworked the chapters before final publishing of the book.

There is plenty of resources you can use while practicing lean start-up approach.

To find prospected customers and get into interaction with them  you can use, for example, LinkedIn, Ask Your Targeted Market. D. Olsen, author of The Lean Product Playbook How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback recommends to use Mechanical Turk or TaskRabbit, which enable you to effectively outsource part of task related with iterations around MVP.

Once UVP and MVP are tested, and your product iterated, improved, and released you can derive from other lean start-up methods to grow your business. Ash Maurya advises to track and fix the barriers your first customers encounter as soon as possible, and to ask them for referrals, endorsements, and testimonials of your product. The last two can be published on your website to build greater credibility and traction of your business.