Book review: Running Lean – Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works

Running LeanAt some point over the last year, I was recommended Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan that Works by Ash Maurya. While it sounds like a book that would be about running, it’s not about fitness in the physical sense at all. Running Lean is about fitness in the business sense.

It’s the third book I’ve read in the “Lean Startup” series, as I recently completed Lean UX and Lean Analytics. After completing all three, I wish I had picked up Running Lean first.  (On the other, it’s entirely possible I should have got The Lean Startup by Eric Ries first, which I haven’t read yet.)

Here are my observations and a few of the many notes I took while reading the book.

While Running Lean is not a startup recipe book, Maurya does provide a couple of useful frameworks for you to follow. He spends most of the book introducing you to his Lean Canvas, a model that you can use to test and validate your startup idea and business model. I liked his walk through because it’s not theoretical. He shows you how he used it to test and validate one of his product and startup concepts. However, as with any framework, the key is using and adapting his Lean Canvas to your particular scenario. Maurya provides some useful insight throughout the book on how you can modify it to fit your needs.

I also found it interesting and refreshing that Running Lean and Lean Analytics shared a common thread – focus. Both books talk about the importance of identifying your OMTM (one metric that matters) and relentlessly focusing on it. As your business (or product) evolves, the OMTM will change, but the degree of focus on whatever the metric is does not. It’s a powerful, simple concept that most, if not all, successful startups continually practice.

I took quite a few notes while reading it on my Kindle Fire tablet – a lot more than I normally do while reading a book. My goal is to come back to these notes frequently since the points made were extremely relevant, and not just for startups. A lot of the concepts he discusses are useful to businesses of any size, particularly those launching new product initiatives.

Here are a few of the more interesting excerpts from the book and my notes that went with them. It should give you a good feel for the book and what to expect should you decide to read it.

 Customers buy from you when they trust you can solve their problems. Investors bet on you when they trust you can build a scalable business model.

Maurya emphasizes trust throughout Running Lean, and it’s a concept that many entrepreneurs overlook. People buy from the people they trust, especially in B2B scenarios. Furthermore, investors only invest in people they trust, which brings up two important points. First, it’s more important to prove you can solve a customer problem early in your business rather than raise money. Second, because raising money means establishing trust with investors, raising money is a long, time-consuming process that can kill your business if you focus on that as your goal rather than solving a customer problem.

The bigger risk for most startups is building something nobody wants.

This is a great observation when identifying risk to your startup. As Maurya points out, unless you’re finding a cure for cancer or splitting isotopes, “you will be able to build your product given enough time, money, and effort.” Unfortunately, if nobody wants the product when it’s done, your business will fail, period.

While ideas are cheap, acting on them is quite expensive.

Part of acting on the ideas is implementing and executing them. Even though the quote is incomplete in my mind without these qualifiers, I still love it. To me, it embodies the difference between success and failure for startups. There are those that think, and those that do.

Every business has a few key numbers that can be used to measure how well it is performing.

The foundation of every successful company or product. Running Lean has a few examples, but Lean Analytics is where you’ll find concrete ideas on what to measure in your business.

Your objective is to find a model with a big enough market you can reach with customers who need your product that you can build a business around.

Building a startup summarized in one sentence. I would emphasize “build a business around” as the key point of that sentence. Also notice that nowhere in that sentence does Maurya make any mention of identifying a model that investors like. Remember – customers first, customers second, and customer third. Raising money is not the primary objective of the business. It should be something that becomes necessary when you need to achieve scale in your business, and you’ll know when it’s necessary. Think of outside money as highly volatile rocket fuel. If you’re headed to the moon, it will take you there. Otherwise, it will explode in your face and crater you.

A startup can focus on only one metric. So you have you have to decide what that is and ignore everything else.

Read that quote again, again, and again. Learn it, live it, love it.

When people don’t trust you, they leave [your website].

The full context of this excerpt applies to making bold claims on a website before people know who you are and what you do. In other words, you have to build trust first. It’s a simple truth, whether it’s a website, a retail store, or a product meeting.

Simple products are simple to understand.

It’s important to avoid adding unnecessary features that will complicate your product for little or no benefit to the user.

Only having passion for the solution is a problem.

Another outstanding observation for entrepreneurs and product marketers. If you are not passionate about the technology and the problem your customer has, you will lack the desire to engage with customers and will not be able to empathize. Even if you have the superior solution, you will lose to competitors who can relate and sympathize with the customer and their problems.

There are so many more excerpts and quotes I could share, but I’ll stop there.

Needless to say, I got a lot out of Running Lean and enjoyed it. Along with Lean Analytics, I’m adding it to my list of Must Read books. However, I’d suggest that you read them in the opposite order that I did – read Running Lean first and then read Lean Analytics. Read together, these two books provide a wealth of information for anyone who is looking to launch a new product or business.


2 thoughts on “Book review: Running Lean – Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works

  1. Pingback: My 2014 reading goals and list | Gregg Borodaty

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