Learning the Way to ”Lean”

Ammeon recently hosted the ‘Lean Startup – Build & scale a business in an evening!’ meetup which was organised by the Dublin chapter of Lean Coffee. During the evening both Lean Startup novices and seasoned enthusiasts played the Playing Lean’ board-game which simulates the experience of launching a successful product and teaches players about Lean concepts along the way. A team of mentors including Dave Anderson (Head of Consulting, Ammeon), Irina Dzhambazova (Editor, Dublin Globe), Padraig O’Brien (Technologist, Planet9) and Augusto Evangelisti (Director, Evangelisti Consulting) were on-hand to provide expert advice and guidance. Learn how this event went in the following blog post by Rob Healy.

Back in rural Roscommon in the 1990s, a jar of instant coffee was something most Mammies had in the back of the cupboard, for fear a visitor from abroad might want coffee instead of tea. Since the consensus in the community was that “ground coffee” tasted more of the ground rather than coffee, it was only ever ingested on the condition that you were “three parts dead with the tiredness” and needed to wake up (and sometimes sober up) in a hurry. In modern Ireland now, there is a coffee house on almost every street corner. The job title “Java Developer” describes both the code and the primary fuel used and there is an excellent Meetup group called the Dublin Lean Coffee Meetup (DLCM). In this meetup, current and wannabe practitioners discuss and debate Agile, Kanban, Scrum and Lean principles.

On August 25th, Ammeon proudly hosted DLCM to play the Playing Lean board game in our training room in O’Connell Bridge House. First proposed by Eric Ries in 2008, Lean Startup is a methodology of continuous experimentation used to develop businesses and products. The board game is described as a flight simulator for the methodology. The game simulates a series of companies, who by building the right products to attract ever more demanding customers, compete to dominate four market segments. The customer requirements are unknown and the resources to build the product and to conduct market research are constrained. This means tough decisions must be made to do either of the following:

  1. Build a product without understanding the customer’s requirements
  2. Understand the requirements but not have a product to sell

At the meetup, four intrepid teams competed against each other to dominate an industry. Over the course of 90 minutes, we discovered the following:

  • The best team was not necessarily the biggest, best trained or best resourced.
  • The best team was not necessarily the one that developed the best product.
  • Luck as much as strategy determined the outcome of the game.
  • It was more efficient to balance resources between understanding what the customer wanted and building to known requirements. Teams that didn’t do this missed out on early successes.
  • Some segments of the market had no need of features that had been developed previously. It took more effort to continue to support unrequired features than to remove them and focus on real needs.
  • The rules of the game were relatively complex and required much discussion, debate and coaching by those who had played previously. But with great support from the mentors, everyone understood the Lean principles within an hour or after a round of the game.

Overall the game was fun and we highly recommended it to entrepreneurs, Lean Six Sigma practitioners or anyone in product development. It helps you to understand the value of experimentation and the value of understanding your market.

All the participants said they would return for a follow-up game. At the end of the meetup, although no team dominated the marketplace, one team sold to more customers and opened up more market segments than any other team. We declared this team the winner. Maybe their trick was to avoid the pizza, beer and fizzy drinks on offer and to stick with coffee.

Thanks to the mentors, Podge O’Brien (Technologist, Planet9) and Dave Anderson (Head of Consulting, Ammeon), for organising the event.

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