THE FIVE READS Eric Ries' new series: “Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works”

The new book Running Lean is the first in a series presented by Eric Ries who, with his The Lean Startup best seller has created quite a cult following among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

In this new book, author Ash Maurya articulates an approach to eliminate waste (to be lean) by reducing the time, money and effort to bring new products to marketing. It is a great manual for entrepreneurs, small businesses owners, innovators, and business leaders of all shapes and sizes.

He explains that the fastest way to learn is to talk to customers. For those without a marketing, sales, or business bent, this is a bit of a shift. To learn not by releasing code, or collecting analytics, but talking to people is a logic shift. When asked to do the smallest thing to learn from customers, many founders' first instinct is to conduct a bunch of surveys or focus groups. While running surveys and focus groups may seem more efficient than interviewing customers, starting there is usually a bad idea.

Here’s Maurya’s lean theory:

 -Surveys assume you know the right questions to ask: It is hard, if not impossible, to script a survey that hits all the right questions to ask, because you don't know what those questions are. During a customer interview, you can ask for clarification and explore areas outside your initial understanding. Customer interviews are about exploring what you don't know you don't know.

-Worse, surveys assume you know the right answers, too: In a survey, not only do you have to ask the right questions, but you also have to provide the customer with the right choice of answers. The best initial learning comes from open-ended questions.

-You can't see the customer during a survey: Body language cues are as much an indicator of Problem/Solution fit as the answers themselves.

-Focus groups are just plain wrong: The problem with focus groups is that they quickly devolve to "group think," which is wrong for most products.

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works provides detailed tactics on how to conduct a good customer interview, from finding the prospects to overcoming mental blocks when speaking to them once you have them there.

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