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Lean Startup: Why It Rocks Far More Than Agile Development



Joshua Kerievsky discusses Lean Startup -a disciplined, scientific and capital efficient method for discovering and building products and services that people love-, comparing it with Agile.


Joshua Kerievsky has been programming professionally since 1987, and is the founder of Industrial Logic, a company specializing in Extreme Programming (XP). Kerievsky is the thought leader behind Industrial XP, a state-of-the-art synthesis of XP and Agile Project Management. He has been an active member of the XP and patterns communities, and he wrote a book called Refactoring to Patterns.

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Software is changing the world; QCon aims to empower software development by facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in the enterprise software development community; to achieve this, QCon is organized as a practitioner-driven conference designed for people influencing innovation in their teams: team leads, architects, project managers, engineering directors.

Recorded at:

Apr 13, 2012

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Community comments

  • Is this an ugly baby?

    by Lars Vonk,

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    So I listened 30 minutes and stopped because I am thinking if this leanstartup is really an ugly baby? I heard a couple of things which feels like an agile rebranding thing:

    - The example on the 9 months building and then launching. What book tells you that? How about Principle #1 from the Manifesto: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

    - Are you doing customer tests in the definition of done? Then it is the leanstartup definition of done. What is that about?

    Should I continue and read the book or is it a waste of time? What does it really add?

  • Re: Is this an ugly baby?

    by Clinton Begin,

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    @Lars: Don't let this talk scare you away from reading the book (The Lean Startup). This video doesn't do it justice. I will tell you that The Lean Startup is very simple and will validate a lot of obvious things. But just as when we were first learning agile methods, the topics were "obvious but nobody did them". The Lean Startup is the same way. While reading it you'll find yourself saying: "Of course! But why don't I do that?" It's an easy book to read, a few gems, very simple concepts. It's the discipline to implement them that is the hard part -- the author offers support in the form of case studies and examples of companies that "did it".

    As far as this video goes, there's no need to polarize The Lean Startup and agile methods (including Lean itself!). I think the title of this talk/video was link bait... nothing gets clicks like a polarizing comment. If you interviewed a number of successful "lean startups", you'd find that they work with agile methods and that they work very well along side or within lean startup values.

    The key point might be that, when you're in startup mode, you might want to prioritize certain lean startup values over agile methods at certain points. But I would consider it fairly insane to throw them out entirely and forever -- at least without adequate replacement, which The Lean Startup is certainly not.

    As I write that statement I'm reminded how agile methods have never slowed me down, they've only sped me up. How many times do we need to prove that automated unit testing saves time in the long run? Even if "the long run" is 3 months? Or 1 month. As for iterations and planning, if a team doesn't have 15 minutes a day, and half-an-hour per week to meet and discuss progress and impediments (and learning), then I'd suggest they're operating at an unsustainable pace and will go off the rails faster than a team that does.

    The Lean Startup suggests releasing a "bad product" as an MVP earlier to validate learning sooner. But what I'd suggest is that a "bad product" need not be "bad software". The mentality works well with agile in this respect too, as common themes in TDD and most agile methods is: "simple solution first" or "the simplest thing that could possibly work". So again, there's alignment here.

    So you're not wrong. Indeed there's no need for re-branding and certainly no need for polarizing the lean startup and agile methods.

    Check out the book though. It's cheap and a quick read.


  • Re: Is this an ugly baby?

    by Joshua Kerievsky,

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    Like you, I don't like rebranding, since it is like stealing other people's ideas without giving credit.

    So let me be perfectly clear: Lean Startup is not rebranding Agile or anything else. In fact, it is significantly improving Agile.

    How would I know? Here's how:

    * I've been an Agile (XP/Lean) practitioner (meaning, I actually do this stuff on real, shipping products) since the late 1990s
    * I've been coaching/training/mentoring companies, small, medium and large, across the globe, in Agile methods since the late 1990s (more than 2 years before the Manifesto was created).

    All along my journey I've been extremely disciplined about experimenting to find better and better ways to build software. That led me, starting around 2006, to Lean Software Development, Kanban and Lean Startup.

    The Lean Startup book contains real stories of companies that pivoted to success. One such story is about Votizen and based on Eric's accounting of the story, their first version of the service took 8 months to deliver. That is a long time in today's fast-paced world. Their next pivot took less than half that time and each successive pivot got faster. That is excellent. It's not as excellent as NeedFeed (see the video within my video about them), since they managed to pivot far faster without even building an actual product.

    Lean Startup also redefines Agile's Definition of Done. If you want to learn more, I suggest you read my blog entitled Redefining Done (

    So, should you take the time to watch the video or learn more about Lean Startup? Only if you are genuinely ready to question your assumptions and discover better ways to create software products.

  • Re: Is this an ugly baby?

    by Joshua Kerievsky,

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    Dear Clinton,

    Agile has reached middle-age, which means in now has love handles and other unsightly blemishes (like outdated ideas, an infestation of easy-as-pie certifications, training classes that buy you PDUs, planning tools that inhibit process improvement, cookie-cutter Agile transition approaches that ignore technical debt, etc.).

    It's a big lump o' stuff and so many folks are practicing it just like we did over a decade ago.

    Meanwhile, better ideas came along that fundamentally changed our software processes and how we improve them.

    Lean Software Development and Lean Startup are two such big ideas.

    They have helped us find slowness and waste in places we didn't even think to look (like iterations, backlogs, velocity calculations) and have made us far more successful in business (via rigorous instrumentation, Getting Out of the Building, Validated Learning, MVP, the Pivot catalog)

    Our practice of Agile today doesn't look remotely like it did ten years ago, and that is thanks to the kick-ass ideas from Lean/Lean Startup.

    Lean Startup is furiously frugal and focused on building the right thing. It is the engine, the driver, while Agile is merely along for the ride. And as I said, the Agile that is along for the ride now looks far different than it did a decade ago. We don't do TDD when we are inexpensively validating an idea and we don't wait two weeks to ship something - we ship many times per day.

    So is the subtitle of my speech click bait? Nope. It is a wake-up call to move past middle-aged Agility to something far better.

  • History......remember?

    by John S Wolter,

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    As I recall there was the Agile manifesto then xp, scrum, and......wait for it............lean. Either it's lean or the same word applied to something different for reasons of marketing. I think the ladder. Cheers, JSW

  • Re: History......remember?

    by Joshua Kerievsky,

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    John, the Agile manifesto came out many years after scrum and xp were created. Scrum got started around 1994, while XP got started around 1996-7. Toyoto was innovating lean long before both scrum and xp came along. If you read Craig Larmen's Iterative and Incremental Development, you will learn how some software groups were doing xp/scrum practices in the 1960s. And none of that actually matters. What matters are ideas that help us do better software development. Lean Startup delivers on that in a major way.

  • Do the right thing!

    by Peter Koch,

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    Hi Josh,

    thanks a lot for this fantastic presentation. For me, it was clearly an eye opener and you gave me a lot of good input to find out "how to do the right thing" (vs. do the thing right).

    I have a lot of experience with development processes, clean code, TDD, tools, software quality, programming languages, ... all these bits and pieces of an imense complex puzzle: software development.

    "Do the right thing" is the hardest challenge and few people master it.

    Thanks for helping me!


  • Led by successful consultants vs. led by successful entrepreneurs

    by Michael James,

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    Joshua, as a successful agile consultant/trainer, I learned a lot from this talk. A lot of the stuff we've been telling Product Owners in particular would be better informed by the Lean Startup movement. I appreciate the wake up call.

    (Michael James, CST)

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