lean manager start up

How Lean Managers Can Help Big Companies to Act Like a Lean Startup

Lorenzo Del Marmol

July 18, 2017

lean manager start up

Everything can be improved. – Clarence W. Barron

There are a number of difficulties that a lean manager has to face during the implementation of lean strategy in a big company. These factors include risk-averse cultures, slow decision-making, and conflicting departmental goals among many others that can make it tough for a lean manager to apply lean management techniques in a well-established company. To overcome these, there are several steps that a lean manager can take to ensure that their company can act like a lean startup. So, what are these requirements that a lean manager must meet in these corporate environments?

Maximize the autonomy:

The innovation team that is a part of big companies should be operating as an autonomous entity that has a different structure and different processes than the rest of the company.

The innovation lab of a company is responsible for drawing up business ideas that can help the company towards success. It is important that these innovation labs are allowed to operate outside of corporate bureaucracy, including IT and legal guidelines.

This autonomy will enable these innovation team to have the freedom and autonomy that they need for operating like a lean startup. The minimal dependency will allow the team to take more risks, move faster, and think better.

Guarantee support from the top level:

The reason that most innovation projects by big companies fail is because they are typically positioned in the lower-level or mid-level management. The slow approval processes, high number of decision makers, and lack of active involvement from the top management in these project prevents the innovation team from operating like a lean startup.

What needs to be done is that the leadership for these newer projects and ideas should come from the top-level management. At the very least, there should be active top-level management sponsorship for the innovation team, but it would be most effective if the lean manager was personally and actively involved with the projects.

The success of projects in a big company is highly dependent on how much support it receives from high-level management. As a lean manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that these innovation ideas and projects receive the support and acknowledgement that they need from the top-level management of the company.

Reduce the costs of experiments:

The problem with most traditional organizations is that their test products and prototypes are built in a way that is suitable for the production environment. While this is feasible for the production itself, it significantly increases the cost of iteration and experimentation.

As a lean manager, you need to ensure that your team can escape the pressure of corporate regulations and a successful brand name.

One possible solution to this is to run the experiments under a brand name that is different from the existing corporation. This will allow you to test out your business hypotheses and assumptions without having to comply with the standards and requirements of the core brand itself.

Furthermore, it is important that you lower the cost of experimentation so they can become a part of your company’s strategy with reasonable budget and timeline. This is where you will need to make use of lean startup principles such as the built-measure-learn method.

The built-measure-learn method makes use of minimal viable products (MVPs) for figuring out the solution to a given problem – the use of MVPs allows you to receive rapid feedback for your test products and prototypes while using a minimal amount of your company’s budget and resources.

Make Use Of MVPs For Validating Assumptions:

Adding on to our previous point, MVPs can be utilized by lean managers for not only reducing the experimentation costs, but for implementing the ‘lean thinking’ in a corporate environment, as well. Traditional companies focus on eliminating waste and gaining consistency during the execution of business operations while lean startups look to utilize the ‘waste’ in innovation and transformation activities.

In order to get big transformations, big companies need to act small, like a startup, or more accurately, like a bunch of small startups. The lean manager needs to define the least investment that is needed (in terms of budget, time, resources) to test out an uncertain assumption for a new product, service, or business model.

Once this is done, a group of lean startups associated with each assumption (known as a MVP) will be initiated. By connecting the existing design and business techniques with the lean startup MVP techniques, a lean manager can help his enterprise test and validate ideas while allowing space for making any necessary changes that may be required (without affecting the overall working of the entire organization).

An example of this can be taken from Buffer, a UK-based application, that was initiated by Joel Gascoigne, who had an idea for the app (the MVP) and made use of a simple landing page for evaluating the market demand for his product. Today, it is the most popular social media scheduling application and has over 2 million users!


  • Factors such as slow decision-making, risk-averse cultures, and conflicting goals within departments can make it difficult to apply lean strategies in an organization.
  • A lean manager needs to maximize autonomy for innovation teams, guarantee top-level management support, reduce the cost of experimentations, and make use of MVPs for validating assumptions to help their organization act like a lean startup.
  • MVPs allow an organization to receive rapid feedback (from customers) for their test products, prototypes, and business models to determine what works for them and what does not.

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Be Lean, be happy!

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