Lean Startup: It’s Not Just Technology, Lives are at Stake (Keynote)

I am in Belgrade today, where I was invited to give the Keynote address at the first Serbian ICT conference on Technology and Entrepreneurship. Its nice to be back in Belgrade, and great to see the growing technology sector here. The degree of innovation and entrepreneurship is impressive, and I’ve had some great conversations with people.

Understanding Your Customer

I was invited to talk about Lean Startup, Agile Development and Lean Product Development.

One thing I did in preparation for this conference was try to understand the attendees better. Basically, I wanted to treat my talk as a product, and the conference participants as my customers. I saw Jason Little do something similar at LESS 2012 last week in Estonia, using Twitter, and thought the ideas was cool.

I wanted to know some things about them, so I could tailor my talk to match their background and interests. I created a short survey using Survey Monkey, and asked the conference organisers to distribute the survey URL to all registered participants. Then, the morning of the conference, before I left my hotel room, I took a snapshot of the survey data and made some changes to the slides in my talk. I’m glad I did it. It was an interesting experiment for me, and something I would like to tweak and try again at future conferences. I’ve been getting some great feedback on the talk, and I’m sure that’s at least partly related to taking the time to understand the participants better.

The full survey results are in the slide deck. This one in particular helped me choose the appropriate clothes to wear (a few more CEOs and Execs and I would have had to put on a tie 😉 ):

And this one told me a lot about where they are coming from:

About the title

I took inspiration for the title from the famous Bill Shankly quote when talking about football:

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.

Those of us who are passionate about technology and creating great teams and organisations, can relate to this. The separation between work and life starts to become blurred, because, if we are successful, our work is an enjoyable, fun, an enriching experience. There’s too much at stake for it to be otherwise. Jurgen Appelo has been writing lately about a similar theme. One of the messages of my keynote is that life is too short, and time too precious, to waste on something that you don’t enjoy and that is not having some positive impact in the world. Hence the title.


I knew from my survey that I could spend less time focusing on the basics of Lean Startup, Agile and Lean. That left me free to explore some topics in more depth.

This is what the survey revealed about the participant’s areas of interest:

The main themes of my talk today were:

  • Startups
  • Overcoming challenges, and not blaming “macroeconomic conditions beyond our control”
  • Myths of Product Development
  • Lean Startup, Agile, Lean Product Development
  • The importance of an Agile Mindset; Being Agile
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • The Fastest Learner Wins
  • Customer Development
  • Business Model Canvas
  • Lean Canvas
  • Perspectives on organisations as you grow and scale
  • Technical Debt
  • Portfolio Thinking
  • Value Streams
  • Waste, Value, Quality, Flow
  • PDSA
  • Lean Thinking and A3
  • Creativity; Innovation; Fostering Innovation

That’s a lot of things to touch on in 75 minutes, plus there was a video and a couple of songs, but it seemed to go down well and feedback was positive. I’ve been working more and more on incorporating stories into my talks, and relying more on visual images and much less on bullet points.

I wanted to emphasise the roll of Lean and Agile, not as ends in themselves, but as means to a better end. A means to creating great products and services that touch people’s lives. And, of course, creating a Lean organisation or fostering an agile mindset is a challenge.

We invest our lives and our lifetimes in the companies and ventures we get involved with. Life is short and time is precious, so let’s make sure its worth it.


The slide deck is available from my Slideshare account here:

Side note about SlideShare: My original slides had a black gradient background (and looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself!). When I uploaded them, SlideShare replaced the background with a white one. I could not find a way to get around this (in the limited time I had to try) so I created a version with white background, and tweaked some of the text appropriately. I would be grateful to hear if you know of a way to fix this in SlideShare. On the plus side, now I have two versions for different lighting environments.


The Value Stream Manager (LESS2012)

I gave two talks at this year’s Lean Enterprise Software and Systems (LESS 2012) conference in Tallinn, Estonia. The topic of the first was identifying and managing waste. The topic of this second talk was applying the Value Stream Manager concept to software product development organisations.

For context, this talk first describes some common perspectives of organisations: the hierarchy perspective, the social network perspective, and the information flow perspective. We then talked about Value Stream mapping and Value Network mapping. I prefer the metaphor of a network to that of a stream for several reasons. One reason is the linearity implicit in the metaphor of a stream. Value does not flow smoothly in one direction all the time. Another reason is that networks are a better metaphor for modern knowledge-work organisations.

We went on to talk about the responsibilities of a Value Stream Manager, as described in the Lean literature, and how this translates for software product organisations. I went on to describe how Stakeholder Mapping is a useful technique that helps in identifying and creating Value Streams or Networks.

The summary from the talk is this:

  • Empower people to be Value Stream Managers
  • Develop their skills as Problem Solvers
  • Help them navigate the organization
  • Develop them as enablers of change
  • Use Stakeholder Maps to show who is affected
  • Use Value Stream Maps to show the flow
  • Use CFDs, Cycle Time and Lead Time to show delays (waste) and opportunities for improvement
  • Use A3 Problem Solving and Proposal Writing to enable Lean thinking and to optimize your Value Streams

The slides are available here: