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Running Lean by Ash Maurya (Book Review of the Week-ish)

Running a business, quite frankly, can be a bitch. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s fun. It’s thrilling. It’s incredibly rewarding. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t also frustrating sometimes, too. Every business owner and manager has had the experience of pouring your heart and soul and time and energy into your product or service, only to find that:

  1. Your product doesn’t do what you wanted it to, or, worse…
  2. Your customers don’t want it.

Well, that’s super fun, right? Right. Not so much.

Wouldn’t it be great instead if there was a way to run your business that helped you anticipate your customers needs more effectively? That helped you build products and services your customers actually wanted? That helped you allocate resources more efficiently and drive greater business results?

Of course, this would be a much shorter post if the answer was, “No.”

Happily, a methodology does exist that helps answer these questions (unless, of course, you were looking for a shorter post). It’s called “The Lean Startup Movement” (or just “Lean Startup”). Originally developed by Eric Ries on his “Startup Lessons Learned” blog, lean startups eventually became codified in Ries’ amazing book The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. If you don’t have a copy, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Just go buy one.

The only issue with Ries’ book (and this is a minor quibble), is that it’s more “big picture,” focused on why Lean Startup method works as well as it does, while offering a framework most businesses can adapt to their specific needs. (FYI… anyone who’s been reading this blog for any amount of time will recognize I advocate similar ideas — Ries was “preaching to the choir” on this one). While it features many case studies and real-world examples, The Lean Startup lacks the sorts of templates and tools that a small business owner or team manager can immediately apply.

And that’s where Ash Maurya’s Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works excels.

Starting from the standpoint of “Practice trumps theory,” Maurya outlines a clear, step-by-step plan that almost everyone can immediately adapt to his or her business situation. Not sure how to prioritize your efforts? See Chapter 4 (One example of “preaching to the choir”: Maurya recommends reading Douglas Hubbard’s How to Measure Anything, which I reviewed when it came out). Want to know how to measure what’s working? See Stage 3 (especially Chapter 10). You’re a fan of the “minimum viable product (MVP)” concept but not sure exactly how to get from idea to execution? Check out Maurya’s “MVP Interview” in Chapter 11. Thinking about adding new features? See Chapter 13. And so on. It’s a book loaded with practical, real-world tools, techniques, and tips you can use today — and tomorrow, too. And don’t get me started on how much I like his implementation of Kanban boards. Way, way cool.

It bears pointing out that Maurya is a software developer as well as a business manager (as is Ries). And, there’s no question that the book frequently presents the Lean Startup process through the lens of creating web software. However, remember that software exists to automate processes. If your business relies on process at all (and, for your sake, I sure hope it does), you can apply the same techniques easily.

Ash Maurya has written an invaluable addition to any business library. Page after page, I found myself thinking, “Wow. I wish I’d had this book years ago.”

Now, don’t get me wrong; running a business isn’t going to be easy just because you read a book or two. It’s still going to require some heavy lifting and hard work. But, whether you read Running Lean in hardcover or the Kindle edition, I’m pretty confident you’ll find you’re spending less time cleaning up after yourself and more time building things your customers actually want.

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