I have worked with lots of social enterprises as well as regular startups and corporates to help them implement Lean Startup, and the conclusion I have arrived at is that it is uncommonly hard.
Lean principles are inherently attractive because of the good sense that they make. We have been brought up to respect the scientific method and to expect trustworthy answers from its application. As a result I have seen time and again organisations of all kinds jump into Lean Startup with great excitement and I have seen these same organisations, time and again, struggle to implement these principles. They fall into a host of traps, which after the fact seem so obvious yet continue to trip us up.
So how do we get it so wrong when it seems so straightforward?
We act like Experts when we are really Novices
The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition outlines a hierarchy of competence where, with experience, we move from Novice through Advanced Beginner, Competent, Proficient and finally to Expert. At the early stages of learning a new skill the model calls for us to give “rigid adherence to taught rules or plans”. Then, as we progress, we start to develop our capacity for things like flexible thinking and insight. The trap we fall into is thinking that we can successfully navigate the Lean Startup environment by our wits alone. We act like experts when we are still very much novices. The result of this is that when faced with complex and difficult decisions, we back ourselves way too much to make the right calls, and the result is that things get off track really quickly. This is especially true for social enterprises where our business models can explode in complexity with multiple customer segments, UVPs etc, magnifying our mistakes.
We need Structure!
To avoid careering off in the wrong direction, I recommend employing a really clear structure to control how you are implementing Lean Startup. This will help you stay on track and avoid making novice mistakes.
This structure needs to be simple enough that everyone in your organisation can understand it. A structure that allows anyone at anytime to see how much progress you have made and to understand what you are trying to learn and how you are learning it.
Even if this structure seems restrictive at times and all you want to do is go with your gut, think of it as training wheels. By working with a rigid set of rules you and your organisation will learn to do Lean Startup from the fundamentals up, and when you have this nailed then you can start making your own rules.
I am a big fan of Ash Maurya’s book Running Lean. This book outlines a comprehensive and well structured approach to applying Lean Startup that you can adopt for your social venture. It includes templates to help you do customer interviews well as well as lots of other useful structure providing tools.
The Social Lean Canvas has been adapted from Ash’s Lean Canvas framework, so it is easy to take the tools that Ash provides in the book, run them alongside the SLC and apply them to your social enterprise.
Everyone thinks Lean Startup is simple and that they will do it right first time. I have seen some of the smartest people I know mess it up in grand style because they thought they were Experts when they were still only Novices. Do your apprenticeship and start with some good structure.