Lean Startup for an Enterprise (Lean Startup Mentorship Experience)

Misbah Chaudhry and Mariya Breyter (Dun & Bradstreet), Mentors at Lean Startup Conference New York 2017
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On May 11th, my colleague Misbah Chaudhry and I were invited as mentors to the Lean Startup Conference in New York. This invitation was based on our speaker submission for the conference and sounded like an interesting opportunity to learn and share with the community, so we accepted.

Mariya Breyter

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Enterprise Transformation Leader

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Lean Startup Conference New York brings together entrepreneurs and corporate innovators who seek to learn continuous innovation and sustainable growth using the Lean Startup methodology. The conference includes workshops with Lean Enterprise experts, followed by a full day of keynote talks, speed mentoring sessions, and breakout sessions that look at applying Lean Startup at scale-specifically how established and enterprise companies are using the methodology.

The Conference was held in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in a New Lab building, which recently became a modern hi-tech destination. There is nothing ordinary about this building, which is a former shipyard converted to a giant tech space.

The conference was good with versatile presentations ranging from the topic of customer experimentation at Nordstrom, to agile practices at City Finch. The major difference from the Lean Startup Week in San Francisco, besides the New York event being much smaller, was, from my perspective, the corporate nature of this conference versus the startup spirit in Silicon Valley. My highlights from the conference included Lean concepts that helped the design transformation at Nordstrom, with Jyoti Shukla, Director of UX at Nordstrom, and Connecting Lean Startup strategy to execution to avoid siloed efforts that fail to shift the organizational culture, with Lean Startup Co. senior faculty member Jonathan Bertfield. These materials are available at the event web site.

Even though I had planned to share my experience as a mentor, what I found most valuable was what I learned. Typically, “Agile Coaching Clinics” and free coaching sessions are held in a free-flowing format. Attendees register at a sign-up board, set up at the event, and any participant can come and sign up for a slot or wait in line to get a free 15-minute coaching session with one of pre-defined coaches.

I expected something similar at the Lean Startup conference, but was mistaken. When I arrived to the Speed Mentoring area, I got a location, a list of six 20-minute sessions with names of mentees and questions/topics provided by each participant, and my own schedule. The topics were matched to the list of my subject areas which I selected when I was invited to be a mentor. The discipline and pre-defined nature of this arrangement, as well as the fact that I got this list 10 minutes prior to the start of the session, were stressful, but I decided to go with the flow and give it the best I can.

When I saw the list of mentees and the list of questions, I was impressed and overwhelmed at the same time. The list of questions ranged from:

  • How might we increase the time and funding for user research so that we can increase our opportunity funding? and How do you collect feedback from a paying customer on a feature for their own customer?
  • What extrinsic incentives work best to improve the culture of innovation? What doesn’t work? Should innovation be included in MBOs for leaders?
  • What’s the best way to recruit talent for innovation-related roles?
  • And finally, specific questions related to validating hypothesis for high-end equipment aimed at established customers and similar enterprise innovation challenges.

The mentees who signed up for my sessions included titles from Product Owner to a Practice Lead and included employees from US Department of Deference, Xerox, IBM, cars.com, Vertex, as well as private entrepreneurs and consultants.

After I overcame initial panic of considering reversing mentor/mentee roles with high caliber professionals I got on my list, I did my self-confidence building exercise and got ready for action. The two hours that followed were amazing! I shared a lot and I learned a lot, and I believe that some of the experience that I shared will make a difference to the people that I mentored. We connected with all six of them on LinkedIn, and I’ve already exchanged a few messages and ideas with many of them.

The summary of what I learned:

  1. All companies, big and small, understand that innovation and testing ideas with customers is a matter of survival, not a luxury.
  2. Companies want to shorten the learn-build-measure loop to get customer feedback before and during building new products or to enhance their product or service.
  3. Enterprises from Xerox to NSA employ Lean Startup techniques to validate products with their customers.
  4. There are specific approaches to selecting the right customer segment and gathering their opinion – if not done right, user research via interviews, surveys, or user groups can be misleading. Validating working prototypes with well-defined customer groups is the best way to approach complex business challenges and to innovate within an enterprise.
  5. The most important idea that I learned at the conference was that no matter how different we are, from National Security Agency to Cars.com, we all believe that establishing direct feedback loop with our customers and immediately testing all our assumptions about new and enhanced products with them directly is the only way to be successful in a modern and rapidly changing world. This is the passion and belief that we share, and whether we use lean startup methodology or any other way to build and maintain this direct relationship, this is the way to go.

Thank you to the conference organizers, Lean Startup Co., and to all the mentees and participants. As I look forward to the next conference experience, I am interested in hearing about the experience other corporations have in implementing lean startup values and principles at enterprise level.

Enterprise Transformation Leader

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