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Learning from Failures with The Lean Startup

by Ben Linders on May 02, 2013 |

The purpose of lean startup is fast delivery of desired products to customers. Minimum viable products are delivered which increase understanding about the needs of customers. Based on the assumption that things can and will go wrong, lean startup encourages to investigate failures, and to learn from them. With the lean startup, people can learn faster and become better innovators. And there are also teachers who use a lean startup based approach in education, which helps their students to learn faster.  

The principles of the lean startup method describe how learning is embedded in lean startup, and explains why learning is so important for startups:

A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible.

The unit of progress for Lean Startups is validated learning-a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty. Once entrepreneurs embrace validated learning, the development process can shrink substantially.

Eric Ries has stated that "failure is a prerequisite to learning". But how can we help people to learn from failures? Asking to fail fast and often can sound strange to people. You have to explain to them that It is not about failing, but about learning from failures, as Zac Gery states in digging into "fail fast, fail often":

The phrase "Fail Fast, Fail Often" is unfortunate because it sets the wrong tone. It should be "Learn Fast, Learn Often." It's not about failing. It's about learning. The purpose of failing fast is to learn and adjust course more quickly. This saves time and money. The Lean methodology take this concept one step further with the statement "Think big, act small, fail fast; learn rapidly."

Braden Kelley explains in don't fail fast - learn fast that to innovate faster you need to learn from the things that you have done that went well, and from the ones that didn’t:

When it comes to innovation, it is not as important whether you fail fast or fail slow or whether you fail at all, but how fast you learn. And make no mistake, you don’t have to fail to innovate (although there are always some obstacles along the way). With the right approach to innovation you can learn quickly from failures AND successes.

In the recent article the ‘lean startup’ model goes to school on edSurge, Patricia Gomez describes how schools in the San Jose Area use lean startup “to offer better learning experiences for their students”:

Summit's methodology is simple: every little change made or product created (their very own "Minimum Viable Product") by either teachers or administrators goes into students' hands as soon as possible. Then, educators measure a kid’s development before, during and after implementing an idea, ask for feedback from students and teachers, analyze this information, and--only then--make their next decisions.

The lean startup approach helps the teachers to find out quickly if their ideas in teaching deliver results, like students that connect with the lesson and that are acquiring the required skills:

“We make a change and we measure it. In traditional models, sometimes you know that some kids are going to fail, but you can't do anything to help them,” says Jon Deane, Summit's chief information officer. Summit aims to be different, its teachers say. The lean startup model means Summit puts users (or in its case, students) at the center of design.

Data from the education is used to find out what works and what doesn’t, and to improve the education for the students:

Pedagogical decisions are made by sharing experiences. Teachers meet weekly as a group in their "Innovation Cycles" and use data to suggest iterations to strengthen (for now) their math programs and discuss solutions for problems students are facing.

If it works, Summit should have some hefty evidence in a few years' time to show that  "The Lean Startup" approach "really pushes learning as much as you can as quickly as you can.

Do you use the lean startup? How do you make it possible that people can learn from failures?

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Useful for established companies also by Tero Parviainen

I recently switched from a software consultancy to a lean startup, and have been lamenting the fact that I didn't know these techniques before (experimenting with business models, feedback loops not only for development but for the whole business model...)

I also wrote an article about this: deveo.com/blog/2013/04/29/the-lean-startup-a-se...

Re: Useful for established companies also by Ben Linders

Tero, thanks for your comment and for sharing your blog. Lean startup techniques can indeed be useful in software development, it might be good to know them and apply them where they can help you.

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