Straw Man Lean Enterprise

Lean Enterprise Straw ManIn 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.

The enterprise adoption of lean startup principles is following much the same course as startup ecosystems adopting lean startup. There’s a lot of cargo cult buzzword adoption.

It’s the Lean Hype Cycle.

Adopting Lean in Enterprise=The Lean Hype CycleThat’s ok. It takes some hype to get things rolling.

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:

From there things become more about culture:

lean startup books

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:

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.
lean startup buzzword bingo, including lean enterprise!
Many of the books I listed offer a practical methodology for implementing lean principles.

The author is only half of the message. The other half is the reader. Click To Tweet

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 Jeffrey Liker & Gary L. Convis. It’s the one Eric Ries recommended to me that I draw the most from in my work and writing.)

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

Lean Enterprise Straw Man vs. Tank

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?

What is Lean Enterprise?I don’t know.

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.

Discussion (9 comments)

  1. Pingback: Lean Enterprise & Innovation Ecosystems by @TriKro

  2. John Maloney says:

    Ahh, the buzzword minefield. Easy to spot and easy to avoid but eventually everyone finds themselves in the middle of one sooner or later.

    As a natural-born polemicist and iconoclast, my history has been as a well-regarded minesweeper. Remember, it can take 200 times as long to clear a minefield as to lay it. Thus, it is key to ban the mines all together. Here are a few from years past. Try to avoid all of them.

    It is important to point out, among the worst buzzwords, only in popular mgmt use since the early 1990s, is, well, ‘enterprise.’

    Putting one buzzword with another, in an ad hoc manner, is an IBD – an Improvised Buzz Device. They are very dangerous, deadly.

    Your ‘brief history’ is too brief. Lean or Toyota Production System was a mid-century manufacturing concept. We taught it in our leadership programs in the 1980s at HP. It has a long legacy. It is a manufacturing discipline. It made sense for HP. I was an evangelist and QA director. We liked customer focus, value, JIT, metrics, activity-based accounting, etc.

    It got paired with enterprise in the late 1980s since ‘lean corporation’ didn’t sound cool enough. Lean Enterprise sounds good. Enterprise Architecture sounds cooler than corporate architecture and so forth.

    Lean Startup is simply effective shtick. Nothing wrong with that, since innovation travels on language.

    Lean Startup Enterprise is hackneyed and banal. It’s because corporations are not startups. Avoid.

    Do we all want to light the campfire, sing Kumbayah, and think of corporations as flourishing ecologies of joyful, autonomous startup projects working on creating value for customers? No, because that is a farce, fantasy and fiction.

    The enterprise is no more a collection of startups than a startup is small version of a company! Beware.

    “I have hopes.”

    That’s nice, it’s a good entrepreneurial trait. However, corporations do not have hope; they have risk management and Black Swans. (They may correlate, IMO.)

    Beware of ‘change’ and worse ‘change mgmt.’ It’s deadly. (BTW, put together, as in, “Hope and Change,” as we are seeing, is a harbinger of total collapse…)

    Rather, continue to foment emergence and lead complexity like you do. That is a MAJOR, buzz-free contribution!

  3. Adam Gersbach says:

    Show me how to test product market fit!

    I am interested in learning your thoughts on testing product market fit.This is important for all levels and types of operations small to large – to friggin huge ;).

    1. Tristan says:

      Thanks for request. I’m a bit behind on that series but hope to pick it up again soon.

      1. Adam Gersbach says:

        Thanks Tristan, I am visiting each day to read one or two posts. There is so much great info here, and a lot to go through.

        I’m really enjoying your posts. Even posts several years old I find extremely relevant and helpful. For example: Team/Market Fit is more important than Product/Market Fit


  4. Mark Graban says:

    You’re right to point out the problems that occur when Lean (or any methodology) gets misunderstood, superficially applied, or just right out botched.

    Lean (in manufacturing and healthcare) suffers from this similar problem as we’re now seeing in Lean software and Lean Startup approaches. Maybe it’s not surprising.

    People learn a little bit and then quickly say, “Oh this is easy, I’m an expert.” But, that’s hardly ever the case.

    I’ve dubbed this “L.A.M.E.” or Lean As Misguidedly Executed (or Lean As Mistakenly Explained). It’s very frustrating and it hold the Lean movement back.

    1. Tristan says:

      Absolutely fantastic post! I will use that acronym all the time now.

  5. Mark Graban says:

    There’s an error in your post… the two books you list after the mention of the Lean Enterprise Institute were NOT published by them.

    You can see their publications here:

    I also recommend “Lean Thinking” by Womack and Jones as a good definition of what a Lean Enterprise is. Or read “The Lean Turnaround” by Art Byrne.

    1. Tristan says:

      That sentence could be clearer. It’s not meant to imply that the LEI published those books. Changed the wording a bit to make it clear that it’s “other authors”

  6. Merlin L'Estrange says:


    SEO Link building is a process that requires a lot of time fo
    If you aren’t using SEO software then you will know the amount of work load involved in creating accounts, confirming emails and submitting your contents to thousands of websites in proper time and completely automated.

    With THIS SOFTWARE the link submission process will be the easiest task and completely automated, you will be able to build unlimited number of links and increase traffic to your websites which will lead to a higher number of customers and much more sales for you.
    With the best user interface ever, you just need to have simple software knowledge and you will easily be able to make your own SEO link building campaigns.

    The best SEO software you will ever own, and we can confidently say that there is no other software on the market that can compete with such intelligent and fully automatic features.
    The friendly user interface, smart tools and the simplicity of the tasks are making THIS SOFTWARE the best tool on the market.



Got something to say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.