First up, we collect some of the Gospels. Steve Blank's Four Steps to the Epiphany. The fantastic Business Model Generation workbook. And then the excellent Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development. (FYI, Eric Ries' book The Lean Startup is shipping soon).
So, in her own words, here's @sprinzette's take on lean... one week in:
From the outside the lean startup movement could be deemed a tad cultish. Mantras flow fast and thick: "Fail fast", "Validate your vision", "Get out of the building"; there is talk of pivots and iterations, early adopters and positioning.
All too easily, a lean virgin, such as myself, could picture a bunch of entrepreneurs and testers pivoting and running out of the building.
A few video talks later, however, the rationale is clear: a successful project is no longer centred on specifications, change requests and resource management; instead lean exponents preach continuous deployment with a continuous feedback loop. By adhering to a Customer Development methodology, you---the Product Manager---are forced to make better decisions no longer based on assumptions, but born out of tested hypotheses.
Marketing fluff is put aside, replaced by a scientific method of discovery and validation. By continuously questioning (through rigorous testing) your assumptions you create access to endless data for you to review and incorporate into each product iteration.
But what does this mean to me, or you for that matter? Truthfully, it probably means right now you're doing it wrong. Your projects are cumbersome; you're meddling with Gant charts, when you should be prototyping; you're frittering away time on project status updates, when you could be talking to your end users.
Working with agile methodologies negates the shame of getting it wrong; conversely, it's acceptable to revisit your idea, revise your plan. Pivoting is at the heart of this concept. The sooner your realise your hypothesis is wrong, the quicker you can revise and retest it, hence the phrase "Fail fast". A pivot is one change - a new customer segment, a different feature - it's not a full abandonment of the work so far. Whatever the amend, you're still learning.
Do you know your audience? No one enjoys cold calling---we're not avoiding careers in call centres for nothing---but speaking to your customer is the best way to test your hypotheses. Don't talk to friends or family, they won't be objective; but do interview their friends. Get referrals, write emails. Get out of the building and talk to people. What's the worst that could happen?
If you take the time to validate your key assumptions, you have vindicated critically important aspects of your product; if you hit points of failure, then you have increased your odds of success by identifying these issues early. Dare I say it? It's a win, win.
What's next? Don't take the word of a newbie; watch Eric Ries and hear it straight from the horse's mouth:
He had me convinced at "We're building products that fundamentally nobody wants", how about you?