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6 Lean Startup Lessons From the Co-Founder of the Lean Startup Company

6 Lean Startup Lessons From the Co-Founder of the Lean Startup Company

Heather McGough, co-founder of Lean Startup Company.

Image credit: Lean Startup Company
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There are lessons to learn everywhere you look. Whether it’s from another business or the person sitting next you, when you look close enough at what has and hasn’t worked for them, chances are there’s some insight you can adopt for yourself, too.

I was fortunate enough to speak with Heather McGough, co-founder of the Lean Startup Company, whose mission is to help entrepreneurs employ Lean Startup and modern management techniques in order to effectively conquer the world. Okay, that last bit regarding world domination might be my own words -- but what company doesn’t want that?

Related: 5 Ways the 'Lean' Approach Can Help Your Startup Grow

Anyway, organizations must learn if they want to grow, and starting “lean” is no different. Here are six lessons Heather shared from the company that has changed how start-ups start.

1. Think like a startup.

Don’t fall prey to “big management,” where questioning the status quo receives a side look akin to a stranger at another dinner table helping himself to your dessert. Questions challenge authority, disrupt mental models and force others to think -- at least for the moment -- of doing things differently.

This is a big win, because people are creatures of habit, and how we think is a habit, too. It’s easy to fall prey to cognitive biases that support our thinking yet fail to question or even reflect upon others’ -- but doing so isn’t what sustains a successful start up.

2. Disrupt yourself.

In order for companies to remain competitive, they must undergo change. Period. You can be anti-change or not feel comfortable with changing, but the bottom line is -- change is going to happen. It must.

I guarantee that the company practices that propelled you into the ranks of a 50-million-dollar company, for example, were different than what it took you to arrive at the 20-million-dollar mark, the one million and survive the startup phase. They must change. With technology changing faster than ever before companies and people must adapt to their environments if they want to stay relative -- personally and professionally.

3. When everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge.

Make a decision, that’s the bottom line. When push comes to shove, you’re there to conduct business. Business is about getting things done. It’s about leveraging relationships and delivering value. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to step on people’s toes all the time, but you also can’t satisfy everyone all the time. Get over it and move on. You can rest assured they’ll still sleep that night.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Hiring Is the Single Most Important Skill for Founders

4. Choose between governance and guidance.

The problem with many management structures today is what they incentivize. Governance refers to administering and following rules to the extent that innovation and free thinking are quelled. Guidance is the complete opposite. To offer guidance is to paint the picture for what the ideal end-state looks like and then say, “Okay, go do it.”

Now, there are parameters to stay within that corral the guidance directive, but the actual steps to get there aren’t governed. In other words, there is no asking “Mother, may I?” every time a decision is to be made, because you already know what the decision-making criteria are. In some instances, governance is necessary, such as when time is of the essence or legalities are involved. Knowing the difference when to optimize each only adds to your effectiveness as a leader and as a company.

5. Talk with customers.

To stay competitive, you must know what the problem is you're solving -- and you can't do that until you talk with customers. Customers provide real-time feedback that you just can’t get through online surveys or email newsletters.

6. There are three types of people in the company.

Evangelists, martyrs and zealots. You can tell who’s who when a new topic of debate is on the table. Let’s say, for instance, that the question is whether or not to keep Fridays “professional,” meaning to maintain a business-like appearance, or to “dress down” and wear something casual because, well, it’s Friday.

Zealots and martyrs are on opposite ends of the spectrum, so if zealots want ties and suits, martyrs will show up every Friday in their best Hawaiian tropic t-shirt in an attempt to test their nemesis’s will. Evangelists support the majority, so if everyone wants to pretend it’s sunny, evangelists may be vocal about dressing down but not necessarily cross the line into wearing the latest fashionable palm tree and coconut collared shirt.

In more English-speaking terms, what these three types translate to are supporters, protestors, and sympathizers. Always know who’s who and where they stand. It’s the fastest way to gain support.

Good decisions are often the results of bad experiences, and bad experiences are oftentimes the results of poor decisions. It’s a vicious cycle, I know, but the willingness to learn and adopt best practices only works in your favor as you prepare for uncertainty

Related: 7 Steps to Master the Art of Persuasion