Most helpful critical review
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Less practical than Nail it Then Scale It, but a worthwhile complement
on February 7, 2014
I'll begin my summary by quoting the author's promise: "Running Lean is a repeatable, actionable process for building products, one that raises your odds for success by helping your identify your success metrics and measure progress against those metrics."
At a high-level, the Running Lean framework is fairly straightforward: validate the problem. Define a solution. Validate the solution. Then develop your solution iteratively while continuing to test and validate along the way. Running Lean offers concrete, actionable instructions and templates for each step of this process.
However, the greatest flaw in this book is hinted in the language of the author's promise. Running Lean is designed more like an algorithm -- painfully detailed, comprehensive, and unemotional -- than a practical field guide for the real world. The book delves into everything from landing page design to kanban boards. In other words, in its attempt at engineering a comprehensive framework for business creation, Running Lean fails to deliver a strong set of core principles (I will revisit this later in my summary).
Another problem I have with the author's promise is that the word "metrics" is mentioned twice, when in actuality Running Lean incorporates very few metrics. In fact, it's not until the very last stage of that actual numbers are even mentioned (eg. Sean Ellis test, 40% customer retention). I found incongruence in the fact that Running Lean was characterized as algorithmic, but was largely based on qualitative experiments without discussion of potential quantitative benchmarks or test methodologies.
Since *Running Lean* is considered the de-facto field manual for Lean Startup methodology, I was eager to read it and compare it to Nail It then Scale It: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation, which I had read previously.
At a high level, NISI and Running Lean prescribe very similar methodologies. However, where Running Lean stumbles, NISI's shines. NISI's focus on simplicity makes it far more powerful and practical. For example, as a first step, NISI focuses _only_ on pain whereas Running Lean starts off with a lean canvas, which forces you to simultaneously consider other parts of the business model. NISI's "less is more" approach proves more effective, because as formulaic and well-engineered as Running Lean tries to be, the reality is that starting a company is stressful and unpredictable.
Another example of unnecessary complexity is useless jargon like "iteration meta-pattern" and "build-measure-learn loop", as well as tangential topics like usability testing, Kanban boards or an annoyingly complex definition of risk: "the way you quantify risk in your business model is by quantifying the probabilities of a specific outcome along with quantifying the associated loss if you're wrong." As a result of its complexity, the milestones in Running Lean are less concrete and powerful than NISI. NISI does a better job painting a holistic picture of common entrepreneurial fallacies, and how to breakthrough them by focusing on the most important goal -- acquiring payed customers.
I also want to highlight two methodological differences between NISI and Running Lean:
1) NISI gets you in front of customers faster. The Lean Canvas is simple, but it seems like the entire exercise should hinge on the customer pain being validated first. That gets entrepreneurs in front of customers faster, which in turn helps save time and wasted energy on the subsequent steps.
2) NISI recommends an objective, quantitative testing method for initially validating the customer pain, whereas Running Lean uses customer interviews. I would argue that as a whole, NISI approaches the startup process more objectively while Running Lean bases it on customer interviews.
Overall, I believe Running Lean is a worthwhile complement to NISI in bits and pieces. Specifically, I found its structured customer interview templates, advice on establishing pricing, and mention of the "Sean Ellis Test" to be valuable and actionable.