Using systems and habits to reach goals isn’t new. The roots trace back through Dr. W. Edward Demming. After WWII, Dr. Demming went to Japan to teach the fundamentals of manufacturing. Companies like Toyota utilized his insight to become incredible companies and created their own processes of improvement such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, and Kaizen.
It is very interesting to see just how similar these business process improvement techniques are to systems and habits improvement. Much of the principles are the same and they all focus on small, incremental improvements that produce great results over the long term.
In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries pulls insight from these manufacturing improvement concepts and applies them to startup tech businesses. There is obviously a lot of room for improvement in startup businesses because the failure rate is very high. He takes a somewhat nontraditional approach and relies on constant improvement rather than a build it and they will come approach. The focus shifts from striving for perfection before launching, to creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and then making progress.
If you have been following my weekly blog articles you probably see immediately that this is very similar to the systems and habits approach. Systems and habits approach talks about setting the minimum and then focusing on progress and shuns attempts at perfection.
The idea of setting the minimum is to start very small and turn a positive behavior into a new habit. We start small so that it becomes easier to set the new habit. If we start with the final outcome in mind we will struggle and make it very difficult to stick with it long enough for it to become automatic.
The idea of focusing on progress instead of perfection helps us to avoid the trap of focusing on the wrong details. In order for it to be perfect, everything has to be just right. This requires intense effort without any real assurance that our efforts will result in perfection.
Shifting to a progress mindset helps us to look at small improvements for motivation. We avoid the extremely difficult. We start with the easy and then continue to add more and more until we find ourselves making great strides.
Eric Ries, in The Lean Startup, applies the same thinking to starting a software company. He argues that it is incredibly valuable to start with the smallest possible offering so that you can learn what customers really want. It gives you a flexibility that you lose when you invest a lot of money first, and then expect results to come.
Starting with the smallest possible offering (MVP) reduces the risk of the business and allows the business to test the waters. If this particular market isn’t doing what they originally predicted, they can shift and pivot to find the best way to reach their market.
Many great success stories such as Dropbox and Groupon took this approach and Ries does a great job of applying his methodology to those companies to demonstrate the value in the Lean methods for starting a tech company.
Whether you are manufacturing, starting a tech company, or working to improve some aspect of your personal life, take the principles that all point to systematically working towards a goal. Set a minimum or create a Minimum Viable Product. Then work on growing through progress not perfection.