What can stop Lean Startup from becoming dogma?

There’s a conversation unfolding about the future of Lean Startup on RoundTables, and Patrick Vlaskovits pointed out:

Lean Startup needs to avoid becoming dogmatic or a religion. It is terribly ironic when some well-meaning enthusiasts take Lean Startup as the Holy Grail of startup methodologies and expect miracles based on faith & unquestioningly “following the rules” alone.

Lean Startup-ers need to keep each other honest about this.

Thomas Schranz from blossom.io had a heart-felt response on Twitter:

Let’s not get into where agile ended up with SCRUM. As much as I love the whole movement, I start to feel more dogmatism and it is very important to become aware of it before it is too late.

Many people draw parallels to the Agile movement and the dogmatism that seems to have arisen in some circles within it. It’s even been called the 2nd chasm.

I like the “challenge your assumptions” attitude in Lean Startup, which when taken to heart, helps prevent people from becoming dogmatic, but I’m not sure this is enough.

Bob Marshall points out the benefits of learning as an organisation and the necessity of a “playing by the rules” stage to become better.  This answers what individuals and organisations can do to avoid the traps within their own dogmatic attitudes. Jared Spool has a great outlook on this in the Design community.

I’m really interested to learn from Agilists, Designers and others who’ve been there, so we can learn from you.  As “a movement” is this really a critical problem? What is “too late” and what have the tangible consequences been?  Is there a signal/noise problem that prevents individuals seeking to learn more or dig deeper from doing so? If so, has that been because of people spreading mis-information, and how has mis-information been differentiated from progressive new ideas in the past? What questions should we be asking?

Please chime in here or on Roundtable.

  • http://www.uie.com/brainsparks Jared M. Spool

    I think the solution is straightforward: Focus energies on tricks and techniques, not on methodology or dogma. The more you focus on tricks and techniques, the more you develop a “toolbox mentality”, which says you can do whatever is necessary to get the job done.

    • http://giffconstable.com giffc

      I wonder about this. I think agile becomes foolishly dogmatic when people focus on the tactics and not the simple, core principles. They end up preaching, for example, a pure, right way to do scrum, which is ridiculous IMO. Tactical examples help people understand the true meaning behind the principles of lean, but tactics can be incredibly distracting. Tactics completely differ depending on the context.  Unfortunately it is in human nature for some people to become dogmatic and rigid, and others to be mentally lazy and accept that dogmatism as a “rulebook”. The best path is to seek to understand the core principles, and then convert those to your own situation.

      • http:/www.stayconnected.me Salim Virani

        Thinking about the diverse range of experience in the Lean Startup crowd in London, there's the group that have been “doing Lean Startup” for a while and then novices who are seeing entrepreneurship as an option or useful mindset for the first time. 

        The experienced have more a of toolset mentality, but they (and I) sometimes cringe when novices make honest mistakes, like confusing Lean with cheap. There's this knee-jerk reaction: “that's not Lean!” but I'm not sure how helpful that is. It's a dogmatic response that can exclude people.

        I think it also leads to confirmation bias among the experts. I've seen this reaction to design techniques. For example, in the early days, Lean Startup-ers seeing usability testing as “just making it work better” and missing out on the whole generative, problem discovery side of it.  The less dogmatic have been interested though, and the community organisers of the Design and Lean Startup communities have made it a point of trying to cross-connect people, so we're seeing a cross-pollination of ideas and tools.

        Seems like it's really just a matter of making the difference between tools, process and principles explicit?  Could it be that easy?

  • http://twitter.com/pauldyson Paul Dyson

    What got agile from the practices of a handful of people to the wider development community? People talking about their direct experiences and running conference sessions to share their learning. What turned agile into Agile (from a set of practices, ideas and enthusiasms to an identified 'thing')? People turning those experiences and learning (their own and those of others) into methods and guidelines and recipes for success. What did for Agile? The recognition that there was a lot of money to be made indirectly from Agile, whether through offering training and certification, coaching, bodyshopping, tools or whatever.

    All through the transition there were good, experienced people doing excellent work extending our understanding and helping people adopt do better. People who promoted agile because they saw the benefits it could bring others. There were also people and organisations who saw an exploitable market just like any other. And the easiest way to exploit a market with a service product is to make your offering simple, attractive, standardised and cheap; or dogmatised if you prefer.

    When I first read Steve and Eric's posts a couple of years ago I saw a set of ideas and approaches that inspired me to try them out with my startup. Today I think we're already on the way from lean startup to LeanStartup and I think its inevitable that Accredited LeanStartup courses, consultants and tools wont be very far behind.

    How to avoid the dogma? I don't think you can. In order to promote the excellent core ideas of Customer Development and lean startup you need to generate interest. If you generate interest you generate a market. If you generate a market you attract the attentions of those who would exploit the market with a lot less care for the actual value and success of the core ideas than for the profits they can generate.

    What to do about it? For myself I do what I did when Kent started talking about C3: use the practices because they benefit me. Talk to people about my experiences and theirs because we both might benefit and learn. Ask and answer questions. But mostly focus on using the practices rather than evangelising them to the world.

    • http:/www.stayconnected.me Salim Virani

      Hi Paul, you raise an interesting point about accreditation and commercial channels for spreading this information.  This is something I've been trying to wrap my head around for the last year. Open vs Proprietary. Community vs Commercial. Controlling vs Generative.  I think the community aspect of this is core to learning, sharing and evolving, but I see commercial endeavors around this as helpful and necessary too. I'm not sure about things like certifications, but training is usually positive.  Is there a finer line there?  From your perspective with Agile, was it an inexorable commercial force, or were certain aspects of commercialisation actually positive?

      I do see a point in just focusing on our own practice rather than evangelising, but people are asking about this and want to learn. And as organisers, we have some influence in the community as a whole. I think it's very powerful to give people thinking hats and tools to avoid their own cognitive biases, but there's a macro perspective too – the community as a whole – and I'd feel irresponsible if I just accepted that there's nothing I can do to help if things might start to slide.

  • http://twitter.com/flowchainsensei Bob Marshall

    What does is mean to become a “movement”? What advantages might that confer? And what disadvantages? 

    Taiichi Ohno famously warned “don't codify method”. I have long concurred with this admonition.

    If we accept that (collective) mindset is key to organisational effectiveness, then it seems to me that any movement should be focussed on developing the relevant mindset, rather than on sharing practices – the latter which, in any case, will be context-dependent and for the most part irrelevant or even deleterious, outside of their original context.

    What is LeanStartup trying to achieve? What is its purpose? Until we can agree on an answer to that, most other issues seem moot.

    - Bob

    • http:/www.stayconnected.me Salim Virani

      What is Lean Startup trying to achieve?

      When I first met Eric Ries in person, he talked about “waste” in terms of years of people's lives on projects that are misguided and later get the plug pulled – not just in startups. This really stuck with me.  In a similar way, the Leancamp founders started to help entrepreneurs avoid wasting their time (and their savings) but Eric's point completely broadened that for me. My feeling is this one of the stronger underlying causes among other's who try to share this stuff too.  I doubt we all have the same goals though – it seems a “movement” could span many purposes.

    • http:/www.stayconnected.me Salim Virani

      I love that aspect of not codifying method, but can I ask, isn't developing a common mindset also dogmatism?

      • http://twitter.com/flowchainsensei Bob Marshall

        A fair question. 

        I do not suggest people should seek a *common* mindset (I personally much value diversity, in thinking as in other things). Rather, I observe, via the notion of “Cognitive organisational dissonance”, that *demonstrably* conflicting mindsets cannot survive long (circa 12-18 months being a practical limit) within a given organisation. (Please also note, I am speaking expressly of those facets of mindset which speak to the way work works, or how work should be organised, overseen and done, and in the context of *knowledge work* organisations).
        I agree that acting to build a *common* mindset can lead to dysfunctional things like groupthink, learned helplessness, lack of innovation, and indeed dogma.My work in RIghtshifting therefore attempts to illustrate the connection between the *nature* of various different assumption-sets (aka mindsets) and business effectiveness. It suggests a correlation (and indeed a causation) between specific assumption-sets such as “Theory X” and “Theory Y” ( cf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T…, and the effectiveness of organisations conducting business according to each of these four (Ad-hoc; Analytic; Synergistic; Chaordic) assumption-sets.HTH- Bob

  • http:/www.stayconnected.me Salim Virani

    Wow – thanks for the thoughtful and constructive input. As a Lean community organiser, this is already helpfully actionable!

    In the UK, I've noticed the Lean Startup crowd change over the last year. It started as mostly Agile devs and founders who've folded at least one startup, and is now a more diverse crowd which includes non-technical, first-time entrepreneurs, and people just kicking the idea of their first startup around. They're coming to “figure out” what Lean Startup is about – they want to know where to start. 

    We try to curate the meetups so that we're sharing tools, but to connect Giff and Bob's point, we're not emphasising the principles enough. I assume this will help enforce that the tools are just tools to pick as-needed, rather than steps in a process or recipe. 

    Think this type of understanding is a good thing to measure? If we succeed in increasing this understanding at Lean Startup meetups, will that prevent dogmatism?

  • http://twitter.com/cherryoana Oana Calugar

    There's a simple way to avoid becoming dogmatic when promoting and supporting Lean Statup principles: just apply the Build-Measure-Learn loop to the principles themselves. Lean Startup is good for startups, but it's a real challenge to make it work work your startup. I think even Lean Startup is perfectible. You know how they say: Aim to be the best. Get there. And then, continue learning.

  • http://www.scrumology.net David J Bland

    Having been a part of the agile community for a while, I've seen the damage people can do to organizations when they introduce practices without ever driving home principles and values. Lean Startup reminds of the early days of agile, scrum and xp. This is a good thing!

    As long as you focus on the principles and values, I think you'll be fine.

    Personally, I'm going to cover lean startup principles and values in agile courses because people need to know where we are headed.

  • http://twitter.com/evanderkoogh evanderkoogh

    I have written a small blogpost about my thoughts on this at: http://erronis.nl/2012/04/13/h

    But the gist is you can't really fight it. And why would you care what people think of your movement? Take the things that work for you, show it to other people that can benefit from it. You have next to no control over how other people are going to run with it.