Apr 27, 2012

Book Review–Running Lean by Ash Maurya

I found this book to be very thought provoking. Several years ago I worked as an independent consultant and really enjoyed it. But I always only sold my time. I think most people who do have a entrepreneurial spirit understand that to really succeed you must leverage this and sell something more.

This book focuses on how to approach the creation of a product with constraints placed on you and your team. It is pretty common to have minimal resources when starting a business. This includes money, people and the ‘right ideas’. Below are some of my thoughts about each of these limited resources and some of what I took away from my reading of the book:

1) Limited Money: The author talks about how it can be difficult to raise money to fund your startup – but follows up with this actually being an advantage. Here is a quote that I particularly liked:
"Constraints drive innovation, but more important, they force action. With less money, you are forced to build less, get it out faster, and learn faster."
Having “too” much money could actually keep you from the hard driving and tight focus that is required to actually get a product out the door.

2) Limited People: Another issue the author talks about is the limited people that are typically available to a startup. This often means that you (and others) will need to fill multiple roles on the team – often with each role being something that would be a full time job. This again helps to keep a focus on doing the most important tasks, and knowing that some things simply will not get done. Be sure that understanding your customer (#3 below) is not one of the things that you let slip!

This is where you will call up any and all learning from your past about prioritization, organization and effectiveness. You will need to decide how best to schedule your days, weeks and months to maximize the efficiency of the work you do. The author calls out that he has found scheduling customer interviews on Mondays and Fridays to less effective than doing this midweek. Also, if you are actively building the product you will want to be sure to have some blocks of time that you can get in ”the flow”. Here is another section out of the book:
"Activities that flow typically have the following attributes:
  • They have a clear objective.
  • The need your full concentration.
  • They lack interruptions and distractions.
  • They provide clear and immediate feedback on progress toward the objective
  • They offer a sense of challenge."
The author has found that early mornings are often best for him to achieve this flow – I find that late nights currently work better for me.

3) The ‘Right Ideas’: The author brings out the point that it is very easy to focus only on your desires and experiences when working to create a product – but cautions against this and talks strongly about the need to work very closely with your targeted customers. Be sure that you have an understanding of the pain points of your target customers and that you are not too focused on only your experiences or your desire to implement some fancy technology! Again a few quotes from the book should help illustrate the authors thinking:
"Given the right context, customers can clearly articulate their problems, but it’s your job to come up with the solution"
"Customer Discovery is about exploring what you don’t know you don’t know"
In this section of the book the author also quotes Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”)

A large portion of the book really lays out a plan to be sure that you have a very open conversation with your users (or potential users) and to ensure that you learn from them what their ‘real problem’ is and validate your solution to that problem.

I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it if you have any thoughts of starting a company or building a product. But even beyond that, I think that it can open your mind to some new ways of thinking and delivering whatever product or service you deliver – even to your employer.

A final quote from the book that sums things up pretty well (in my opinion):
"Running Lean is a systematic process for iterating from Plan A to a plan that works, before running out of resources."
You can find the book on Amazon here:

Or find the product page for the book on the O’Reilly site here:

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book to review by theO’Reilly Blogger Review Program

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