Lean Startup + Enterprise = Lean Enterprise
Compelling. Isn’t it?
The idea that an enterprise scale company with tens of thousands of employees can be as swift and nimble as a startup is enchanting…
…but it’s false.Comparing an enterprise to a startup is like comparing an ocean to a dolphin. They simply don’t equate. Click To Tweet
Enterprises can’t be like startups and they certainly can’t be Lean Enterprises. They can however nurture startups as the ocean can hold and nurture an abundance of life.
Enterprises don’t exist in this state. For the most part, they have established business models.
We can argue that we live in uncertain times and all enterprises exist in conditions of extreme uncertainty. Ok. Fine.
Compared to a startup, most enterprises can predict next year’s revenue for their core business with relative precision.An enterprise is not a startup and to treat it as such is dangerously wrong. Click To Tweet The most comparable thing to an enterprise is not a startup, but a startup ecosystem. Click To Tweet
An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. – Wikipedia, Ecosystem
An enterprise has within it, a variety of people doing a variety of jobs who dynamically form different groups through the lifespan of the enterprise. These groups utilizes various resources such as office space, production material, etc and are linked together via cash flows, resource allocation, and the value chain.
Some of these groups operate in conditions of extreme uncertainty, some do not.
The Case for Waterfall
If you’re selling hamburger meat you can add spices, you can package the meat differently, you can go organic, but between 80% lean and 85% lean beef, there’s not a whole lot of room for innovation.
It will be difficult, if not impossible, to try to convince the existing business unit to stop doing business as usual, particularly when they’re making money and being judged on their ability to deliver ROI.
However, the enterprise in its entirety has an interest in knowing whether there is a possibility to disrupt the market radically. At least before someone else does it for them. (Lab grown beef anyone?)Investigating disruptive innovation shouldn't mean killing the cash cow prematurely. Click To Tweet
Fortunately, enterprises don’t have to make this choice if they accept the idea that they are not a single organization bound to a single set of rules and a single business model for all business units.
Homogeneity and Ecosystem Collapse
Business model/business unit homogeneity is a big problem. It creates a single point of failure. When the business model is eventually disrupted, then the entire system collapses.
There’s a clear parallel to biodiversity.
In a thriving ecosystem, changes to the environment can radically reorganize the species living there. Many may go extinct. But even in a state of catastrophic environmental change such as with the Permian mass extinction (yes…I’ve been watching Cosmos), some species will survive and thrive.
Those surviving species may have adapted to live in a small niche, but given the new environment conditions, they do very well and can occupy a more dominant role in the ecosystem.
In an ecosystem with limited biodiversity, even a minor environmental change can cause a complete collapse of the ecosystem. Irish potato famine anyone?
Too Small for Our Business
Enterprises rarely encourage diversification into an assortment of niches which may one day grow due to radical market disruptions. It’s “too small of an opportunity for our business, so shut it down!” Why invest in something the size of a grasshopper?Enterprise resources are allocated to the cash cow, oblivious to the plague of locusts about the devour all the grass. Click To Tweet
We should all remember the lessons of Kodak, who consistently failed to invest in alternative business models.
Enterprises shouldn’t try to be a Lean Enterprise or simply “do” lean startup. That’s a fool’s quest.
Instead, the enterprise can set up conditions favorable to small startups, internal or external, using lean startup principles to discover new business models in adjacent markets that leverage the company strengths or develop new ones.Enterprises can become Innovation Ecosystems. Click To Tweet
Over the next posts, I’ll be outlining some common elements that seem pivotal to enabling innovation and lean startup methodologies to thrive.
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