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Business Creativity & Innovation

Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Lean Startup

The annual Lean Startup conference was held at  the end of 2014. At the conference, Cory Nelson of GE, estimated only 15-20% of all employees across the company understand the core elements of Lean Startup – the need for identifying assumptions and running experiments to test assumptions. Although this is particular to Lean Startup, the concept of testing and prototyping is common to all who work in the field of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. GE has trained thousands of people in this system which they have named the Fast Works program.

The use of early assumption identification and experimentation (also known as playing) is highly variable in its application and highly dependent on the maturity of the organisation and the sophistication and flexibility of the employees.

Many employees who are actually within, or who have come from more traditional R & D backgrounds are used to multiple phases of development with go/no go points along the way and cannot understand (or in some cases tolerate) a more flexible and ambiguous framework.

In the world of Agile development there are 3 levels of employee mastery:

  • Level 1 (doing): Employees need a process to follow and may be new to the discipline or position
  • Level 2 (understanding): Employees are open to the possibility of alternative processes, but still like a defined process to fall back on
  • Level 3 (fluent): Employees are able and willing to adjust and improvise without a specified process or framework

Based on such a framework, a company wishing to adopt any Lean Startup principles would need a stable base of level 3 employees,  supplemented with level 2 and 1 employees.

Going back to the observations of Cory Nelson, does this mean that a large proportion of organisations only have 15-20% of their development employees at Level 2 and Level 3? GE is only one example but it does raise the interesting point about employee development and staff turnover. How does your business improve employee mastery both individually and collectively?

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