Lean – A Brief Intro
Lean philosophy originates from Toyota’s Manufacturing System (TMS) also known as the Toyota Way. Because of the huge success, later the concept was implemented by the American automobile manufacturers. For many years it was reserved for companies which were involved in the manufacturing of goods and products, and only about a decade ago Eric Ries begins series of experiments based on the lean concept. In his book “The Lean Startup” Eric gives a more rigorous explanation of how these concepts helped him build IMVU – a platform for virtual avatars. According to different Lean resources, at its core the idea behind Lean methodology is acting faster, iterating more frequently and deliver value without wasting time and resources. Lean’s main usage used to be in the manufacturing and now the software development industry but I’m confident that it has its place in Marketing as well.
What is Lean Marketing About?
Most marketers have constantly changing priorities and focus because of the nature of their job, the dynamic landscape of our profession doesn’t ease the situation. We are definitely in need of a framework to help us work more efficiently while not messing up our creative process.
Working at a Lean company, it was inevitable that I would catch on some of the culture that the Lean methods offer. Of course some customization has to be applied but in the end, the results are pretty good. By embracing the philosophy of continuous improvement combined with Kanban as a way to organize and visualize I was able to implement Lean for the marketers’ needs.
A good idea only strikes you once! This is why I try to write it down with as much detail and as fast as I can. Most of the time because of person’s brain activity an idea changes dramatically from the moment it comes to your mind, to the one that you need to recall it again. This is when a good backlog comes in handy. A backlog is where you can gather all of your ideas in one place. I personally use it as my idea storage place where I add all of my bright (and not so bright) sparks. Later in the process, I run through quick evaluation and decide whether they have any value or not.
Lean marketing has many positive sides but the way it helps you prioritize is the one that I find most useful. It is really simple and intuitive – always give higher priority to the work items which generate the most value. The amount of value that a given item has may change because of the timing, situation, and other factors. The value also may be financial or non-financial. For example: If we had a big product release coming and had to choose between launching a new banner campaign or investing efforts in growing our social community we would choose the latter although it doesn’t have direct monetary benefits. The reason for making this decision is the value growing our audience will bring by generating higher reach and by that higher awareness for our new release. The example illustrates how timing and non-monetary value may influence our decision.
Focus is a key ingredient of Lean and by using Kanban you can enhance it even further. If you have to work on two tasks and you tackle them one-by-one you will finish them way faster than if you are doing them simultaneously. This is why multitasking doesn’t work! Well in real life the picture is a bit different especially if you are dealing with people. There is always something more important, so in the end, you have to switch between multiple tasks but this doesn’t mean you can’t optimize the process. Continuous improvement. Remember? By limiting the work in progress you can easily minimize the context switching and by that finish things faster and faster.
Fast is always better than slow. When limiting your work in progress you start working on smaller batches and because of that you are able to see the fruits of your work faster. With that, you’ll be able to test them faster and launch them faster if we are talking in the context of a marketing campaign.
The other aspect of fast is fast iterations. One of the core concepts of Eric Ries’s movement is the Build-> Measure-> Learn cycle. By iterating multiple times you can dramatically improve every cycle compared to the previous one.
Don’t absolutize your plan
Eisenhower said that „Plans are nothing; planning is everything.“ and this is absolutely the case here. Plans are handy because they show North for the team but being Lean is about being flexible, so you have to find the right balance between following a given plan blindly and discharging it completely. In the context of Eric Ries’s methodology, this is called “pivoting“. The decision whether you should pivot or preserve your current state must be backed up by data and not be the result of impulsive urge.
So for those who are not familiar with what stand-up meeting is, this is a short (at best up to 15 minutes) gathering of the team which is held every day in order to sync what is happening between the team members by keeping them on the same page. Every member must share: what they have done the day before, what they will do this day and what are the challenges they have faced or think will face. The daily stand-ups are an important part of turning your marketing team into a Lean machine. Besides from helping your team always be in sync they also help you find and resolve members’ challenges before they turn into problems. One of the most valuable sides of the daily stand-ups is that they help you enable the culture of peer-to-peer learning, so crucial for every organization to success.
Initially, Lean has been built to serve the needs of Toyota’s manufacturing floor and then implemented in the software development but with a little effort and imagination, we can make it work for almost every industry. There are already success stories with Health, Education, Financial, Marketing and Business Development. I’m really confident that you too can make Lean work for your personal and professional life if you give it a try. So, would you?
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