Lean methodology is simple: identify value, and deliver it with as few steps as possible.
Though normally discussed in the context of business, it can be applied to almost anything. Most interesting, however, is how it applies at different levels of abstraction.
Examining Lean Startups, a way to structure startups, provides a good case study.
In short, Lean Startups aim to shorten product development cycles while continuously assessing viability by incorporating customer feedback.
In some sense, the lean approach to startup scaling is bulletproof.
First asking what the customer desires and then building that exact product, reduces - if not completely eliminating - the probability of failure.
And not only does it mitigate risk, it ensures that no time or energy is devoted to anything wasteful, something that does not contribute to the customer value.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch.
The first problem with the lean methodology is the time gap between the time when what the customer perceives as value is identified, and when the product is finished and ready to ship.
What customers value is constantly changing, and what matters today will not necessarily matter tomorrow.
Additionally, in a world of improving living standards customer value is depreciating. What is impressive today is ordinary tomorrow.
Thus, when the product launches, the initial assessment of customer value will either be wrong, or overstated.
The second challenge in lean methodology arises from the distinction between creating desires and simply fulfilling them.
Using what the customers of today value today as a guide for the future will never result in the creation of new desires.
To do this, startups must instead stubbornly claim to know what the customer will desire in the future and hope that they are right.
If all startups were lean, would enough customers ever demand to go to Mars?
While there are opposing views on whether Lean Startups is a good approach, the methodology is well suited for the ecosystem as a whole.
For this to hold true, the ecosystem should identify customer value and deliver it with as few steps as possible.
This requires an ecosystem of diversified startups pursuing respectively unique visions and is achieved with customer feedback.
The feedback is not asking the customers what they desire, but the simple mechanism of customers deciding to buy the product or not.
With time the ecosystem will work like a filter, where failing startups is the removal of unnecessary steps, and the succeeding startups is the identification of customer value.
Concepts that seem intuitive in theory, but fail in practice are perhaps applied at the wrong level of abstraction. In this case, Lean Ecosystem might be a better term.