In my last post, I criticized adoption of the term Lean Enterprise and was accused of making a straw man argument.
That is 100% correct. It is a straw man argument.
It’s the straw man that I’m arguing against.
It’s the Lean Hype Cycle.
So let’s dig deeper and deconstruct the straw man.
What is Lean Enterprise? (A brief history)
The Lean Enterprise Institute was founded by James P. Womack in 1997 which largely focused on the enterprise adopting of Lean Manufacturing techniques. Other authors used those techniques in a variety of contexts and started churning out books such as:
- The Lean Enterprise Memory Jogger: Create Value and Eliminate Waste Throughout Your Company by
- The Complete Lean Enterprise: Value Stream Mapping for Administrative and Office Processes by Beau Keyte , Drew A. Locher (July 30, 2004)
From there things become more about culture:
- Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation by George Koenigsaecker (2009)
- Lean Transformation: How to Change Your Business into a Lean Enterprise(January 1, 2010)
However, since Eric Ries wrote The Lean Startup (September 13, 2011), the term Lean Enterprise makes most people think about the application of Lean Startup principles to large organizations. The books published since 2011 reflect that:
- The Innovative Lean Enterprise: Using the Principles of Lean to Create and Deliver Innovation to Customers by Anthony Sgroi Jr. (August 19, 2013)
- Lean Enterprise: How Corporations can Innovate like Startups by Trevor Owens & Obie Fernandez (March 31, 2014)
- Lean Enterprise: Adopting Continuous Delivery, DevOps, and Lean Startup at Scale by Jez Humble, Barry O’Reilly, & Joanne Molesky (September 25, 2014)
- The Corporate Startup: How Large Enterprises Can Implement Sustainable Disruptive Innovation by Tendayi Viki & Dan Toma (TBD)
They are all good, have different perspectives, and are worth reading.
My last post was not a specific response to any of these books, but the term itself.
What does Lean Enterprise really mean?
Unfortunately, the term “Lean Enterprise” is what all good terms eventually turn into… fodder for buzzword bingo.
Many of the books I listed offer a practical methodology for implementing lean principles.
In popular usage “MVP” is now synonymous with “prototype.”
“Agile” is (sometimes) synonymous with “We do daily stand ups.”
“Pivot” is synonymous with “I changed my mind based on the latest shiny thing that caught my attention.”
The problem with the term “Lean Enterprise” is in distinguishing lean principles from lean methodology.
(Side note: If you’d like a stand out book recommendation on adopting lean principles at scale, read The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership by
Principles vs. Methodology
As with Agile adoption in the enterprise, the problem is not with Agile (whose principles are nearly identical with Lean Startup.)
The problem is with applying Scrum (a methodology of implementing Agile) without thought for the specific circumstances of the team or understanding the purpose of the various methods within it.
Stand ups become ritualistic without conveying information, work-in-progress sneaks from one sprint to the next, and war rooms become an anti-pattern. Band aids instead of cures.
Enterprises are complex.Best practice from one enterprise to another is like ritual seppuku under the premise of an appendectomy. Click To Tweet
It’s this “Lean Enterprise” that is dangerous. The “Lean Enterprise” straw man adoption.We should all be arguing against straw men. Click To Tweet
Against the Straw Man
Over the next few years, we’ll see a lot more talk about Lean Enterprise as well as its failings.
There will be a lot of methodologies. There will be a lot of books. There will be even more blog posts.We should be guided by principles and avoid the dictates of methodology. Click To Tweet
We should be wary of buzzwords and the SEO driven frenzy that we are all subject to. I’m playing the SEO game right now with this very post!
Innovation Ecosystem is just another buzzword in waiting. The terms aren’t important.Saying Build-Measure-Learn doesn't make us lean. Saying orbital sander doesn't make us carpenters. Click To Tweet
If the term is a useful metaphor, use it. If not, discard it.
What makes us lean is the practice. We can get leaner and leaner….we are never simply lean.
If we read a book, we should read another, and then another. We should seek out different opinions.
We should disagree and we should argue.The moment we stop disagreeing is the moment progress halts. Click To Tweet
What is Lean Enterprise?
No one knows what is lean enterprise. Not yet.
It’s too early.
We’re just scratching surface of what a Lean Enterprise can truly accomplish. There is more to learn.
I have hopes.
I hope that Lean Enterprise doesn’t mean “We do 3 horizon planning.”
I hope it doesn’t mean “We use the Business Model Canvas.”
I hope that the term comes to mean the adoption of Lean Startup principles within an complex organizational environment.
I hope Lean Enterprise simply means, a corporation…continually improving it’s own practices.