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  • Writer's pictureSylvester

How to be Ruthlessly Lean

A client once called our approach “ruthlessly lean” - the term may sound aggressive and ill-fated out of context, particularly with the number of stories out there now following the crumbling of great companies that cut a bit too deep in their efforts to reduce costs and increase margins. Seeing the term may cause one to imagine a miser counting pennies and stretching every ounce of work they can from an already overworked staff. However, when applying the concept in the right way at the right time, being “ruthlessly lean” might just be your most direct (and least painful) path in your product’s earliest iteration. In fact, here at Mile Marker we take being called “ruthlessly lean” as a compliment and it’s something we strive for.

Finding Product-Market Fit

Before you can find product success, you must find product-market fit. By spending as little money as possible to find product-market fit, you afford yourself more chances to try again if the first attempt fails. While this won’t work for every company and product, it works for most - and will likely work for you.

Let’s refer to a well-known application as an example: Uber. When Uber started, they had the vision to disrupt the taxi industry. The standard taxi user experience involves riders calling an operator, who then called drivers, who then drove to the rider and took them to their destination. Uber’s Minimum Viable Product may have been defined as “software that replaces the operator”; to achieve this, software needs to be built for both the rider and driver sides of the experience (in addition to the creation of a complex algorithm). This “minimum” version is still a hefty undertaking and therefore quite risky if product-market fit has not yet been verified.

Where to Draw the Line?

How lean could we go? What if, at onset, Uber had only replaced the rider-to-operator phone call with a web request? The operator would be notified and the remainder of the operations would remain the same. This solution isn’t scalable (nor is it meant to be) and it isn’t elegant (elegance comes with a price tag) but it could have been used to see if there was indeed a market for riders to request cabs online rather than via a live call. Early success with this lean method would allow for user feedback before true development begins and supports Uber’s case to attract investors.

Saving Money is the Effect, Not the Cause

Being lean is not accomplished by being frugal. It is accomplished by doing only what is necessary to achieve the next milestone. Byproducts happen to be less development up front and, in turn, less monetary spending. Part of being lean is removing bottlenecks, eliminating unnecessary steps, evaluating excessive approval chains, and prioritizing (ACTUALLY prioritizing - not just marking everything “high priority”).

Keep Your Foundation Strong

Of course, as the old adage goes, “everything in moderation”. A solid, scalable foundation is a must - a strong software architect can help make decisions about where investment is needed and where corners can be cut. Just be sure to keep your eye on the next milestone rather than the 5 year plan. Let lean thinking drive your success and make scaling a natural progression.


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