How We Created a Lean Culture of Learning and Discovery

by Ryan Healy on July 13, 2011

A startup is a big, scary, risky thing.  There are tons of questions, and very few answers.  The only way to stay sane is to know what questions are most important, test the hell out of those questions, and find an answer (or at least a hint of an answer) in the data.

That’s the basic premise of a lean startup.  As Steve Blank says, a startup is not a small company, it’s a temporary organization designed to find a scalable business model.  When you look at your startup through this lens, you realize that you cannot possibly run it the way that a Fortune 500 Company is running things.  You need a new model.  The lean startup model has given entrepreneurs the basic framework to do this.  But it’s just a framework.  Every company needs to function in a way that fits them.

At Brazen, we put our own lean model in to practice.  The idea was to create a culture of Learning and Discovery that goes beyond product development, beyond customer development, and actually touches every piece of the company.  It’s still a work in progress, but it’s already had a tremendous impact on how everyone at Brazen views their work, reports their progress, and knows when it’s time to push forward or pull back.  Not to mention the fact that it’s helped us find a great new business model.

I gave a speech about this very topic at The DC Lean Start Up meetup in late April.  My speech starts at the 26:06 mark.

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Here’s a very quick summary if you don’t want to watch the whole thing.

  1. We turned our staff meetings into learning and discovery sessions.  Everyone wrote down answers to three questions:
    1. What did you learn last week?
    2. What are you testing this week?
    3. What do you need to test, that you are not able to get to this week?
  2. I keep a master list of open questions.  No matter how big or small a question is, I write it down.  Then I go back and organize this list as much as possible.  Often it’s only once every couple of weeks, but the act of writing things down helps.
  3. I also keep a master list of answers.  Whenever a test proves or disproves a question on my list, it is moved to the answers document
  4. Full transparency – this model worked amazingly well for us when we were searching for a model.  We now believe we have found a model.  We continue to test, but our meetings are more and more focused on achievement, objectives and milestones.  We still talk about learning’s and adapt and pivot all the time, but when it’s time to scale (as it almost is for us) you need to move on.

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