Workshop: Lean Startup in an Established Business

by Justin Souter on February 28, 2014


As previous posts have recounted (here and here), I am increasingly interested in how existing businesses can apply Lean Startup principles to boost innovation and growth (more of my Lean Startup-related posts here).

I had been kindly given an opportunity to learn more about this by Mark Adamson, a business consultant based in North East England, who specialises in working with the arts and creative sector.

Mark introduced his client, a-n — The Artists Information Company, to The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Su Jones, Director of a-n, read the book and wanted to explore with her team how a-n could benefit from the Lean Startup approach.

This post recounts my experience of the workshop Mark and I facilitated for a-n.



Having done homework on a-n’s situation and mission — “Stimulating and supporting contemporary visual arts practice”, my sense was that Lean Startup was probably more about ‘evolution, not revolution’.

I was also mindful that there is a rapidly expanding body of knowledge around Lean Startup – viz the book series, and also Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad take.

In thinking about how best to help a-n absorb the potential of Lean Startup, I felt that intro videos from key thought leaders was going to be much more dynamic and clear than ‘chalk and talk’ from me.

Mark and I rehearsed the presentation together, and I also did a couple of dry runs on my own, which ran to 75 minutes.

Workshop session

Regarding the session itself, Mark and I were fortunate that we had the best part of a morning to present to a-n — which turned out to be from 9.30 to 12.45: there was a lot of discussion!

Su was happy to set the organisational context, which chimes with a crucial change management tenet – that of endorsement by key leaders.

Learning from Dave Butler and his programme for breakthrough innovation at Coca-Cola, I felt it was important to set the business context – this is about innovation and growth rather than being about Lean Startup as an end in itself.

We were aware that the vocabulary for Lean Startup is different from what most people are familiar with. We therefore had a slide to introduce key concepts before the videos

The videos themselves addressed the following topics:

  1. Lean Startup
  2. Lean UX / product development
  3. Business Model Canvas – turn product into success revenue stream / business

Mark ran a discussion after Eric Ries’s introductory videos to gain feedback and provide any clarifications.

We also had a more generalised discussion at the end. One of the most thought-provoking questions was: “Are we doing an MVP of the whole organisation, or just individual products?” My response was that different parts of the organisation would be affected in different ways – that part of this was about execution, part was about search (cf Search versus Execute).

[Need to credit photos if posting slides to Slideshare…??]

Linked-to material

For ease of reference, the following are the links I used:

  1. The Lean Startup book and Eric Ries
  2. The Startup Owners Manual book and Steve Blank
  3. Business Model Generation book and Alex Osterwalder
  4. Lean UX book and Jeff Gothelf
  5. Lean Analytics book and website
  6. The Lean Startup: Debunking Myths of Entrepreneurship – Eric Ries
  7. Achieving Grandiose Failure – Eric Ries
  8. Building the Minimum Viable Product – Eric Ries
  9. Better product definition with Lean UX – Jeff Gothelf video (until minute 12)
  10. Talking About Business Models – Alex Osterwalder
  11. The Business Model Canvas – Alex Osterwalder
  12. Mapping Customer Pains to Value Proposition – Alex Osterwalder
  13. I think I probably also mentioned Running Lean by Ash Maurya


Feedback from participants

  • “Excellent, really really helpful”
  • “It’s a framework which fits very comfortably with what we have a feel for already”
  • “Just to confirm that yesterday’s session with Justin Souter was spot on – we didn’t get to the exercises but covered a lot of ground. Everyone found it useful and stimulating.”
  • “There’s quite a lot to take on board”
  • MVPs – “Testing the proposition”
  • “Measurement is the biggest thing”
  • “Is Timing important?”

Su summarised it rather well:

But just to mention as an organisation we’re very used to creative business development and experimentation – have realised a few ‘innovative’ new products in the past – so this programme of work with you is about capturing the intuitive and making a framework that captures the company’s values and embeds the thinking beyond any one person/leadership style/team member.

The phrase “capturing the intuitive” really stuck for me – it seems that Lean Startup for many people is ‘yeah, we’ve sort of always done it that way’, but have never had the ‘framework’ to back it up.

Lessons Learned

  1. Key decision makers should be involved
  2. Executive / top level sponsorship sets the tone for the rest of the organisation
  3. Minimise the talking / presenting – maximise answering questions and watching videos; interaction and dialogue are key to experiential learning
  4. Extensive preparation and rehearsal is worth the investment
  5. ‘Expect the unexpected’ – Lean Startup challenges many business and organisational norms, so some ‘sleeping dogs’ may get awoken: however, remember this is a healthy sign of engagement and forward motion, and is to be welcomed
  6. These are new concepts / mindsets for many – perhaps less is more [we had more content than time, and no time for business model canvas exercise]
  7. It helps to anticipate the question “What next?” with a set of follow-up consultancy propositions
  8. Diversity of thought leadership in this area needs to widen – it was noticed from the ‘thought leader’ photos I presented that white men abound…
  9. With any organisation, the expected challenge is how to make this approach ‘stick’ / persist, after the initial excitement has faded and folk have gone back to their desks
  10. We need the humility to realise we’re learning through this process, ourselves


  1. This is a lightweight process framework, which isn’t particularly prescriptive and doesn’t enforce a overbearing corporate process
  2. It’s about minimising risk through rapid and continuing iteration, rather than ‘picking winners’ and over-investing in things that nobody buys
  3. Potential for portfolio management of different products in the pipeline is probably something to explore going forward; product development is also a key element of future steps
  4. Rolling this approach out into organisations which have a more traditional waterfall mindset — and moving on to something more ‘agile’ — will take some time and will involve an ‘intercept strategy’ – perhaps experiment with some services to begin with, rather than any tech builds

Next Steps

Su has asked us to map out how to progress in pragmatic steps, with a potential combination of practical activities and mentoring.

I will be blogging soon about the Business Model Canvas workshop we delivered this week :)

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