Not too much, not too little, just the right amount of lean. Use lean approaches to perfect lean approaches.

by Meng Jiang

In my opinion, the worst nightmare for entrepreneurs would be that, after spending countless hours and consuming all resources, they have successfully completed a dream product, but only to find out that no one actually wants it. The lean startup approach is designed to make sure that this doesn’t happen. The minimal viable products are designed to test product market fit earlier on in the game to leave enough time and resources for the entrepreneurs to pivot to a “better” version if needed. The problems, however, are that the word minimal implies personal judgment and the fact that entrepreneurial processes are inherently buried with hurdles.

For teams that are experimenting with MVP for the first time, it is difficult to design a product that is truly both minimal and viable. If the products are too minimal, it would not serve the purpose of testing out the product’s concepts. Without a meaningful mockup, customers would not be able to understand the product’s real intention and may not provide feedbacks that are beneficial to the entrepreneur. Worse yet, these feedbacks may lead the entrepreneur down the wrong path.

On the other hand, if the products are too viable, then it would defeat the purpose of the MVP concept of fail early and fail often. External resources are extremely valuable to entrepreneurs and often makes the difference in either a certain product can cross the chasm or fall short during the last mile. It is therefore important that these resources are not wasted on purely learning exercises. This is preferred, however, to MVP being too minimal, when the downsides are compared.

The other deathtrap of leans startup approaches is forgetting that starting a company is not an easy feat. The MVP concepts are designed to inform the entrepreneurs if there are product-market misfits and if the business model need modified, but it is important not to take every hiccup along the way as a sign that it is time to pivot. Pivoting too fast and too often would also result in the startup burning through resources too quickly without creating any viable products. When time becomes tough, it doesn’t necessarily always mean that the concepts are flawed. It could be a range of other factors that need adjusted. Therefore It is important to spend necessary amount of energy trying to solve the problems before deciding it’ time to move on.

Things are easier said than done. In the end, these approaches require a significant amount of market understanding and self awareness to have a feeling of what is right. And just like everything in life, practice makes perfect. By the fourth time the entrepreneur uses MVP approaches, he/she would have already mastered the perfect balance, but this doesn’t mean he/she has to fail three times first. They could apply the MVP process to the MVP process itself when using it for the first time, stop often and ask themselves if the MVP they have just designed is too minimal or too viable and quickly come to the perfect amount of lean.