Using lean for streamlining manufacturing processes has certainly had some enviable successes, and applying it to other areas of business seems like a great idea. Certainly, every area of business can benefit from eliminating waste across value streams and universally optimizing methods. But, in terms of long-term growth and success, when the trend shifts toward applying lean concepts to business models, we may confront some significant challenges using it to effectively bring a product to market.
The success or failure of whether lean will work as your business model depends on how you view your minimum viable product. While it’s true that experimentation and iterative design is better than spending all your resources on one top-down design, if your MVP is actually a “minimum viable message” that you are testing for response, using lean concepts (as in lean marketing) may not be the best approach. Ultimately, your business needs to build a relationship with the market, and relationships start with first impressions. Per lean, your first iteration may be a product that does not even come close to solving a problem. If you roll out an MVP that is not fully realized, the users who were on board initially will likely drop your product quickly and not give you a chance in the future.
This may be especially true if you’re planning a product that appeals to developers and operations. If this is your focus, and you try a lean startup approach, you may be quickly overwhelmed with negative feedback. Releasing a product to developers with the idea that you’ll fail fast and learn continuously may end with just failing fast. You won’t get a chance to reach “product-market-fit” because your target audience will dismiss your non-viable product and not bother to return for the second round of testing.
So while a lot of good—a focus on customer feedback, split-testing and iterative design—can come from taking the lean startup approach, startups need concentrate on one important goal: Creating relationships with the market and putting out a viable product that adopters will absolutely love and can’t live without.