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Banish Waste [Management
Posted on January 27, 2017 @ 08:26:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Lately I've been blogging about Eric Ries' book The Lean Startup (2011). Before there was the lean startup there was a large literature dedicated to lean manufacturing, lean production, lean thinking, agile development, etc... The lean startup concept did not materialize out of thin air and to properly frame the lean startup concept it is important to understand some of the history behind lean ideas and techniques.

One of the books most responsible for introducing and popularizing lean ideas and techniques is the book by James Womack and Daniel T. Jones called Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation which was originally published in 1996 but the version I am consulting is the revised and updated 2003 edition. One of the reasons the book was popular and influential is because it documented the Toyota Production System practices that the Japanese automaker used to achieve incredible success in a short period of time. Toyota was also becoming a dominant force in the industry around the time they first published the book. This lent alot of credibility to the ideas then and continues to do so today.

Another reason the book was popular is because it focused upon the thinking behind lean production practices and not just the practices themselves. In today's blog I want to quote the opening paragraph of that book on the definition of the Japanese word "muda" because I think it is important to understanding the primary motivation behind the lean startup approach - to banish waste:

Muda. It's the one word of Japanese you really must know. It sounds awful as it rolls off your tongue and it should, because muda means "waste," specifically any activity which absorbs resources but creates no value: mistakes which require rectification, production of items no one wants so that inventories and remaindered goods pile up, processing steps which aren't actually needed, movement of employees and transport of goods from one place to another without any purpose, groups of people in a downstream activity waiting around waiting because an upstream activity has not delivered on time, and goods and services which don't meet the needs of the customer. ~ p. 15.

According to the authors, the antidote to muda is lean thinking. Lean thinking is first and foremost about banishing waste or muda. Where Eric's book fits into the literature on lean thinking is that he was the first to define in some detail how lean thinking can be applied to startups so that startups don't waste alot of energy doing stuff that just ends up being wasted effort. The term lean often conjures up associations with being light and agile and fast. The idea of banishing waste is probably not the main association but it should be because that is the justification for why the lean startup approach is considered useful.

In my last blog on Experimentation I didn't discuss the muda concept but it is important to keep in mind because experimentation done wrong is just another form of muda for the startup. The purpose of experimentation is to make sure the startup vision is on track before you go too far down the road in believing your startup vision. Spending alot of time on a business plan for an innovative product or service is muda because it often does not survive contact with the first customer.

Lean startup proponents advocate the use of scientific methods to test the startup value and growth hypothesis. One might think this is being done in an effort to arrive at the truth or validated learning, but the prime motivation is to try to avoid as much muda as possible during the startup process. This is how lean principles are justified and it is why we can agree on them. It is easier to agree on what muda is than what the truth is.

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