Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Lessons Learned: An Introduction

It's so much easier to suggest solutions when you don't know too much about the problem. - - Malcolm Forbes

I had the great privilege of being one of the people on the second floor of the Westin for Friday’s Startup Lessons Learned Conference (SLLConf). It was great just being in the same room with the key thought leaders of this new movement. Kent Beck, Randy Komisar, Steve Blank and Eric Ries were inspirational and clearly deserved their places on the podium. The entrepreneurs who shared their stories and the folks who served on panels all did a fantastic job of sharing.

Now that I’m back in Ohio (I was one of the token foreigners in a room full of Silicon Valley residents), I have found myself reliving and rethinking much of what I saw there. It has taken me a while to integrate what I learned into my experiences but I think that I have gotten at least the MVP version of that integration completed. These posts are the result.

I went to the conference thinking that I was well grounded in the basics of the Lean Startup approach and that attendance would hone the edges of that understanding. As it turned out, my thinking was short sighted at best.

It’s not that I was ignorant of the fundamentals of Lean Startup thinking, but that hearing these fundamentals discussed by some very intelligent, experienced folks helped me transform and internalize that knowledge. I had really debated about whether there was any value in spending the time and money to fly to San Francisco when there was a perfectly serviceable simulcast going on in Cleveland. All I can tell the folks who attended the simulcasts is that I’m not missing either the time or the money.

I first discovered Eric’s blog over a year ago and have been fascinated by his application of Lean thinking to the problem of starting a new business ever since. Having spent the last 18 years of my life working with manufacturers, I was familiar with Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, the Toyota Production System and Lean Thinking as it applies to manufacturing environments. I have also been following Lean thinkers in other areas like Mark Graban’s excellent Lean Healthcare blog.

Lean thinking has long made sense to me, so when Eric applied it to the organization of companies, I was hooked. The Startup Lessons Learned Conference was another step in my lean journey.

Steve Blank has famously (at least within this community) referred to the conference as a “Woodstock for entrepreneurs.” In its wake, I’m going to respectfully disagree. The Westin wasn’t Max Yasgur’s farm; it was The High School of Performing Arts, the magnet school featured in the movie Fame. We weren’t there because we wanted to watch the performers on the stage and smoke some e-weed. We were there because we wanted to be the performers. We needed to learn how they did it. That said; these are my lessons learned.


To keep things easier to read on-line, I have broken this post into 5 parts (including the Introduction). I will post these over the next couple of days. To keep up with postings, you can either check back, setup your RSS reader for this feed, or monitor the #SLLConf hash tag in Twitter (you could also follow me @KurtBCarr)

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