Running Lean

I’ve just finished reading Running Lean by Ash Maurya.  It’s a fantastic book for startups, or for anyone creating a new product or service.  Ash combines some of the best material from Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany with the business model diagraming of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, and he adds his own original material, improving on the concepts in both books.

In the appendix of his Four Steps book, Steve Blank provides a series of checklists and worksheets that an entrepreneur can use as he makes his way through the first two steps of customer discovery and customer validation.  Like Ash, I’ve tried using wikis, Google Docs and other methods to record data in these worksheets and share them with the other members of the team.  Inevitably, the worksheets are difficult to keep up to date, they take time to wade through, and they don’t provide a mechanism to measure progress through the phases. Ash provides not only a clearer, more concise guide to the same process as Blank’s  discovery and validation steps, but he also provides a tool, the Lean Canvas, to guide and communicate the learning.  In particular, I found his guide to interviewing customers very valuable , and his advice for validating the solution MVP before building the product equally helpful.

Ash has also made some modifications to Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas that I think make it more focused and more actionable.  He keeps the customer segments, value proposition, channels, revenue streams and cost structure blocks from O & P, and then adds four new blocks:

  • Problem – a concise statement of the problem to be solved and why it’s critical to the customer to solve the problem
  • Solution – a concise description of the solution to the problem and the key features that must be there to have a viable product
  • Key metrics – a list of the key metrics, like Dave McClure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates, that indicate progress
  • Unfair advantage – Something that can’t be easily bought or duplicated; your sustainable competitive advantage.  Too many startups don’t think about this and make sure that they build this into their product, service or business model.

The only improvement that I’d like to see in the book are more varied examples.  All of the examples are from his own businesses.  But that’s a small quibble.  The book is great.  I recommend it highly.

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Marketing Scrum

Photo courtesy of 10ch

In my agile marketing consulting practice, I often introduce the concept of marketing scrum to my clients. They seem to like the practice, and it keeps us on task and improves communication. Typically, we hold stand-up scrum meetings twice a week, rather than daily. As in agile development practice, we go around the room answering  three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday (or since the last scrum meeting)?
  • What am I going to do today?
  • What obstacles (if any) are preventing me from moving forward

In addition to those three questions, each person reports on the number of customer engagements they’ve participated in since the last scrum.  For the startups that I work with, we generally start with a goal of 10 quality customer engagements per week.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can be surprisingly difficult for some startups.  The point of adding that fourth question, “How many customer engagements?”, is to keep the focus on “getting out of the building”, in Steve Blank’s phrase.  For a startup, customer engagement and feedback is the lifeblood of the business, and ensuring that each and every person understands its criticality is essential.

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Agile Marketing – The Best Resources

If you want to learn more about agile marketing, here are some resources you can turn to:

Agile Marketing Blog – Frank Days and John Cass blog and podcast about all things agile.  Their monthly interviews with practitioners of agile marketing are particularly good.

Webinars – Marketbright has several webinars on agile marketing. Although their primary purpose is to promote products, they provide some good material on agile marketing in these webinars.  Marketbright has also written a book called Nurture Marketing for Dummies that covers many techniques for nurturing customers through the sales funnel. This book is available for free (in PDF format) on their web site.

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Agile Marketing Manifesto

Photo courtesy of Jared Tarbell

Agile Marketing has not received near the attention given to Agile Development, and  part of the reason for this lack of attention is the absence of a comprehensive statement of the principles of Agile Marketing, agreed upon by a respected group of marketers.

I’m trying to organize a group of people who can get behind an Agile Marketing Manifesto. In the meantime, here are some thoughts about what an Agile Marketing Manifesto might look like.

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