24 Oct Comparing Lean Startup and Design Thinking
Ever since attending an event last week, during which the new book The Startup Way was discussed, I have been ruminating over the many management models and methodologies around innovation and business growth. From Blue Ocean Strategy and Disruptive Innovation to the Lean Startup and Design Thinking, there are so many well-reasoned and validated ways to think about growing and/or helping organizations innovate and achieve sustainable growth positions.
So, what is the best way to go about selecting the right option?
While I encourage you to satisfy your curiosity by exploring every model, including those that I’ve left out, my recent encounter with The Startup Way has given me a slight preference for Lean Startup. The Startup Way is based on the premise that Lean Startup methodologies can help organizations of all sizes, evidenced by Eric Ries’ success in helping companies both large and small. The methodology, as its name suggests, is based on the application of a lean management style to entrepreneurship.
Consistent with the goal of providing perfect value to the customer through a value-creation process with zero waste, embracing the Lean Startup means spending less time on non-value adding activities such as chasing funding, building epic-scale business plans. Instead, it requires spending time soliciting feedback, and harvesting data to ensure that the product being built meets a real need that will drive customer demand. As this approach was originally intended for startups and the extremely uncertain conditions upon which they are founded, the Lean Startup and The Startup Way were designed as a rigorous approach to entrepreneurship, consisting of structure and principles that would provide entrepreneurs with the process to navigate effectively. Now more established organizations can leverage their process orientation in a manner that could help them become more focused on deep customer understanding and relationships, and hence, transform into a modern company more capable of competing in the 21st century.
Design Thinking is also a disciplined and systematic process that places greater emphasis on the customer in driving the value creation process. Having been exposed to Design Thinking, both experientially and academically, I found that The Startup Way was quite similar in its approach. Like Lean Startup, Design Thinking consists of a set of intuitive principles and practices that leverage rapid prototyping, continuous testing, and tolerance for failure. It is also in direct response to the increasingly complex and uncertain world defined by modern technology and new ways of doing things. Where I believe the two diverge in a fundamental way is in Design Thinking’s most essential principle – empathy with users rather than product vision. Design Thinkers make great efforts to understand customers and their experiences before coming up with solutions, and this thorough understanding of customers is what guides the rest of the process.
So, back to the original question: What is the best option? My answer, which undoubtedly will be perceived as copping out, is it depends. Researching these two models both individually and collectively was a very valuable exercise. I was able to add another method to my toolkit, which can be summoned at any time as a standalone or in a hybrid model. Both are very sound theoretically and have been buttressed with several real-world case studies. Other than the difference of whether the process is driven by product vision or customer need, I don’t think there is a very dramatic difference between the two. Not enough to spend a significant amount of time researching with the goal of nitpicking. Whether I arrive at the same conclusion for other models, will remain to be seen.