I read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It was pretty good.

I thought his points on minimizing the time spent between learning something about your business is very apt. In manufacturing, you want to minimize rework of goods, or downtime of your line. In information work, you want to minimize wasted effort, or situations where customers won’t be wanting to give you money. It’s all the same, really. And it makes sense. Build the minimum viable product (MVP) to see if you’re on the right track, spending as little time as you can doing the building so that you can learn if you’re doing it right. If not, change things and try again.

But one thing not really talked about is motivation of workers.

At big companies, or at small ones acting like big companies, projects take a long time to go from a concept to a product. Sometimes years. And during this time, the workers on the project have varying motivation. At the beginning, everyone’s excited! Something new! But if there’s setbacks, or rumors, or concerns about the business, that excitement wanes. As workers can’t see the impact of the work they are doing (no customers, yet, since the product’s not done, yet), it’s hard to get re-excited about the great work they’ve been doing.

And I think this is a travesty. Workers who aren’t excited don’t work as hard. Workers who don’t work as hard don’t produce as good of results. But with lean, those workers get to see the results of their work sooner. And with lean, when a learning opportunity comes along and the product has to change, they can all get excited again, the business is moving in the right direction, towards the product that customers want.

When you slog away at something for a year, never seeing if what you’re making is what the (or any) customer wants, you get demotivated. Lean can help! Improve your worker motivation by adopting lean practices, by learning more often what the customers really want to have. Do it by iterating, fast, and in very small steps. Put out a product that has just 1 feature, see if customers would pay for it. If not, go back to finding what 1 feature they will pay for, and iterate on that. Quickly. The workers will be more engaged, they’ll see the impact of the work they’re doing on the customer, and you’ll get better product, faster.

Now, that’s the best of both worlds.


18 July 2012