Eric Ries's Lean Startup virus mutates into potentially virulent enterprise form

Bad news about the Lean Startup Virus. It’s catching…

One of the questions that was asked approximately 250 times in an audience of 530 when we put our Eric Ries Lean Startup talk together in London this January (link to video and Q&A here), went along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah yeah, but this doesn’t actually effect us as we’re too big to be Lean.”

I wish I had read this article by Sukumar Rajagopal, CIO of Cognizant on the Pursuit of Employee Delight before then.

He has taken some of the principles of Eric’s Lean Startup and Geoffrey Moore’s concept of ‘Systems of Engagement’ and ‘Systems of Record’ and how this relates to the consumer/enterprise software IT divide (think Sunday night vs Monday morning…) and applied them pretty successfully in a company of 140,000 people. It probably doesn’t qualify as a startup…

“Sometime in 2010, June to be precise, I became CIO of Cognizant (Nasdaq:CTSH). Soon after starting on the new job, I checked with our top management (CEO, President, Group Chief Executive) on the primary goal of IT (Information Technology) at Cognizant. They unanimously said, IT should strive to produce “associate delight” (we call our employees associates). On behalf of the team, I accepted this goal as a key element of the IT charter – blame it on my newbie naïveté 🙂

“When I checked with other CIOs on this, they were highly skeptical. They said it is impossible for a corporate IT department within a Fortune 500 firm to produce associate delight through software applications. It seemed impossible indeed, but we were not deterred.”

By studying what their associates were doing in their business day, and using the simple example of a complicated time sheet system that took 5 clicks to get to actual time sheet as a proof of concept, Sukumar’s team came up with some big goals:

“We conducted this study by identifying the top 25 tasks that associates perform using corporate IT applications. We decided that the minimum viable product should be to OneClick-enable the top 25 tasks.

“Is this sufficient to produce associate delight? We went over the five major problems, which we outlined in the first post, again and decided that we needed to a few constraints to guide our designers. We came up with five that would enable us to produce delightful designs:

  1. 500 millisec response time for the applications.
  2. 500% productivity gain from the previous way of performing tasks.
  3. No change management effort – no mail blasts, no marketing campaigns, no training/elearning, etc.
  4. No email alerts from the platform.
  5. Apps should be rolled out in a few weeks instead of the typical several months or years.”

I don’t want to spoil the story, (but it does have a happy ending and the good guys win), for more, go and read the whole post at Vinnie Mirchandani’s, ‘Deal Architect’ it’s worth the time even if the whole story could have been one post and not 5 separate ones.

The whole, ‘We’re too big for Lean’ discussion does seem to be a bit of a sideshow whenever ‘The Lean Startup’ is discussed. I stopped counting the number of people who I have met post our event with Eric Ries who come up to me and say they enjoyed the talk but they   didn’t think, ‘it’ would work in their organisations as they were too large.

This question is often asked of Eric in particular reference to Apple to which he politely replies he has no inside information so doesn’t feel able to comment in depth. Talking to Adam Lashinky, who wrote the excellent, ‘Inside Apple‘, and to Ken Segall, author of ‘Insanely Simple‘, it seems that in many respects Apple runs as the world’s biggest startup – people feel resource constrained when not working on core activities, work in very small teams, iterate incredibly quickly.

The principle difference between, Apple and Lean Startup is that, ‘the customer’, at Apple is a small, core group of people who make decisions. Most of the business is focused on developing ideas and iterating them to the satisfaction of this core group on a very regular – 2/4 week cycle.

The debate about applicability in large companies then, misses the essential message of Lean which seems to me to be to treat new ideas/startups as experiments and find ways to work stuff out quickly. Working out whether customers like something and are going to use it are at the heart of Cognizant and Apple’s approach. (Apple’s customer seems to be represented by an internal group but there is no argument about how rapidly they iterate).

‘The Lean Startup’ (TLS) is a highly viral, contagious, idea.

Some of those viral characteristics make it spread – simple to catch (it’s out there in the wild), easy to spread (everyone can ‘get it’ and pass it on). One other characteristic of viruses is equally interesting. Viruses are constantly mutating, to adapt to their environments, to new opportunities to spread. This isn’t the first time that Lean Startup Enterprise (TLS-E) version has been seen in the wild and it won’t be the last.

I wish Eric would hurry up and write, ‘The Lean Grownup’. There are some great case studies out there now.

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