Why Lean Startup Training Doesn't Move The Needle On Its Own

With the lean startup movement, large enterprises are trying to implement lean startup principles in their businesses. It turns out this is a challenge for almost all big companies. There are several reasons why big companies have difficulty moving quickly and developing disruptive innovations. Still, there is sincere desire in Corporate America to change this as most enterprises are being disrupted beyond recognition.

To this end, several lean startup training companies have emerged. The largest so far appears to be Moves the Needle. Others in the same market include LaunchPad, who is primarily a software company expanding into services, and Lean Startup Co. Eric Ries’ company who doesn’t currently have plans to build a large professional services organization.

Over a 90 day period, I had an opportunity to work with Moves the Needle (MTN) and several of their customers. MTN’s primary products are a Three-Day Bootcamp and a 90-Day Accelerator. In both programs, MTN assigns a “coach” or a group of coaches to train, facilitate and mentor internally-staffed innovation teams. Outside of the company’s founders, Aaron Eden and Brant Cooper, the coaches are a group of freelance sub-contractors. As MTN is scaling the business, the Founders have moved into marketing and operations roles. That means a network of freelance coaches are now delivering MTN services. In my time there, I didn’t meet any coaches who were actually on MTN payroll.

In my opinion, MTN solutions are good, but not great. The content is solid. The coaches are mostly entrepreneurs who are running Bootcamp programs for MTN as a side business. Of all the coaches I met, only one had significant experience in the enterprise. 

Part of MTN’s business model is bringing an entrepreneurial attitude so I don’t necessarily fault them for being thin on corporate innovation experience among their coaches. Still, it is something to be aware of as corporate innovation is not the same animal as building a startup. Corporate innovation is arguably more difficult than startup innovation due to all of the baggage than comes from the large, established business where the innovation teams reside.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of MTN’s business is this: they don’t have any case studies where they have delivered a meaningful business impact.

Ask them and see for yourself if their answer is satisfactory. 

Did they actually move the needle for their customers?

If so, how?

What was the quantified business impact of all this training, mentoring and coaching?

From what I can tell, MTN has been training corporate innovators for over two years so far. They’ve sold these services to perhaps 20 companies or more. After all of this training, they can’t point to a meaningful example of innovation in the enterprise. This is a cause for concern.

The only example I am aware of that comes close is from a large health insurance company who saved $5 million per year by changing their customer service process. While this may indeed be a success, it’s not the kind of disruptive innovation most corporate innovators are expecting when they attempt to implement lean innovation principles and hire MTN.

If you are shopping for lean innovation training, I think it’s appropriate to ask for case studies. If you aren’t convinced that MTN or any lean training company can deliver an impact, then I believe it's fair to question the value proposition of what they offer to your business.

The reason Moves the Needle doesn’t actually move the needle is because they fail to address the root causes of why companies struggle to be more innovative.

Established companies struggle with disruptive innovation because of deeply-rooted cultural and structural barriers. Cultural barriers including fear of failure, a failure-is-not-an-option execution mindset and developing best practices from an entrenched business model all stifle innovation. Structural barriers like a rigid functional hierarchy, regulatory compliance, early business case development and forecasting, and exclusive focus on execution metrics for reporting to public equity markets can be innovation killers. MTN does little if anything to address these significant barriers to innovation. As as result, MTN has no impact on these barriers at all. While the innovation team might be fired up with a new skill set, they are quickly smothered by the entrenched bureaucracy. 

So, the MTN Bootcamp experience is an educational three days and a break from the daily grind. But it falls dismally short in what it claims is its primary value proposition - changing the corporate culture to be more nimble, more customer focused and more innovative. By this measure, it doesn’t move the needle at all. 

To make a real change in a large global enterprise, you need more than a three-day bootcamp for 30 people. It takes a serious commitment and a more creative approach to really change things.