Kanban and Lean Startup: Making the Most of Both


Specifying Value, Identifying the Value Stream
The most important point in a value stream is its downstream end, where something valuable is delivered to the customer. Start mapping the build-measure-learn process from that end by specifying value. James Womack and Daniel Jones describe this very clear approach in their book, Lean Thinking [3]: “Value can only be defined by the ultimate customer.” Therefore, in order to apply lean startup‘s third principle, we first need to know who the customers of validated learning are.

The customers of validated learning are not the same as the customers or users of a company’s product. They are the founders who consume pieces of validated learning and decide what they need next as they guide their company. Getting the next piece of validated learning done requires building a product, delivering it, getting facts about what customers and users do with it, and learning from those facts.

After specifying value, we can move to the next step advised by Womack and Jones, identifying the value stream. The fifth principle of lean startup, build-measure-learn, postulates what the value stream should be and broadly outlines it: Build the product, measure how it’s used after the delivery, and learn from the data.

Having identified the value stream, I‘ll now discard it in favor of a concept that is more modern and also much more suitable to knowledge work: the knowledge discovery process described by David Anderson in a blog post in late 2011. [4] The knowledge discovery process focuses on dominant activities rather than work centers and handoffs of work items between them. The measure and learn phases we experienced at WhenU can best be described through this process.

Back to Our Startup
At the starting point of WhenU’s measure-learn process, a new software product version was already built, tested, and ready for release. One activity dominated this process early on: ensuring that our VP of advertising operations didn’t have to yell the next morning, “Dude, where’s my revenue?”

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About the author

Alexei Zheglov's picture Alexei Zheglov

Alexei Zheglov was introduced to agility before he was introduced to Agile. In 2002-06, he worked in a startup that built, measured, and learned (yes, the motto of future lean startups). He learned that releasing software and getting feedback from users can take a lot less time than he had previously thought.

In later years, Alexei studied and practiced Agile more systematically, starting with unit testing and code craftsmanship and then moving into “process” topics. He had a short Scrum phase as his quest quickly lead him to Lean and Kanban.

Alexei's current interests are Lean thinking, understanding flow, process improvement, Kanban, and combing them with agile engineering practices.

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