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Lean Inception: Learn How to Align People and Build the Right Product

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To build a successful product in an assertive and agile way is the desire of any organization and, consequently, of the leadership team and the product team. For this reason, the application of agile methodologies, such as Lean Inception, is fundamental, as they contribute to bringing improvements in the way work is done and in the relationship between people, seeking effectiveness not only in the creation, but also in the evolution and the operation of products.

You will see below more details about Lean Inception and how to align people and build the right product, as well as agile methods that, used in a complementary way to Lean Inception, get faster and better results.

What is Lean Inception?
Why do a Lean Inception?
Lean Inception: When to use it?
Lean Inception: When not to use it?
Who should participate in a Lean Inception?
How to carry out a Lean Inception?
Sample Lean Inception agenda
Examples of Lean Inception beyond the IT area
What happens before and after a Lean Inception?
Remote Lean Inception
Lean Inception and Lean StartUp
Lean Inception and Design Thinking
Lean Inception and Design Sprint
Lean Inception and Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Lean Inception and Scrum
Lean Inception and Product Backlog Building (PBB)
Lean Inception and Kanban
Lean Inception and SAFe
Lean Inception and OKR
Lean Inception and User Story Mapping
What are the Lean Inception Certifications and Trainings?

 

What is Lean Inception?

Lean Inception is a collaborative workshop, created by Paulo Caroli, with the aim of aligning a group of people on the solution proposal to be built, that is, on the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

The Lean Inception workshop comprises a sequence of activities to promote the alignment and definition of objectives, strategies and the scope of the product or solution to be built. Lean Inception combines Design Thinking philosophy and the Lean Startup method to enable organisations to effectively innovate at scale.

In summary, while Lean Inception deals with the alignment of a team about the product, the solution to be built, other agile methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban help this team to be efficient in the ways of working.

 

Why do a Lean Inception?

Lean Inception came to make a difference in organisations, as it helps the team to be effective by aligning the participants on the product, aiming to solve the problem.  Lean Inception takes care of the very important artefact: the Product Backlog and a plan for the MVP, the initial path to get started towards a great vision, so that  everyone knows the first steps towards a great success.

In this sense, Lean Inception was created, especially, to avoid wasting time, money and resources going on a bad direction, creating inadequate products. There is no point in moving fast and being agile, but going in the wrong direction, creating the wrong product.

 

Do you want to optimize and direct your team’s work effectively? So make use of Lean Inception. It is especially useful when the team needs to develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and evolve a product iteratively and incrementally.

The main goal of the MVP is to validate the business hypothesis and elaborate the product direction, to help with the discovering of the next steps towards success. Thus, the minimum set of features are chosen that help to validate what really makes sense to users.

When it comes to users, the personas, it is necessary to understand who they are and how the product fits their realities. Likewise, it is important to define how to measure the real usefulness of the product for these personas.

Creator of the method and author of the best-selling book (in Brazil) Lean Inception: How to align people and build the right product, Paulo Caroli highlights two situations in which the use of Lean Inception is most valuable:

  • Large projects use Lean Inceptions to start working leaner, delivering value faster and more often. The workshop helps you understand, prioritise and validate the features that are really valuable to your users.
  • Smaller organizations (like startups) use Lean Inceptions to take an idea that has been tested by a few pre-software MVPs or prototypes and turn it into a starting a successful product.

It is worth remembering that the workshop is about aligning a group of people about the product vision and the MVP. How Lean Inception fits into other practices such as ideation sessions, user interviews, market research, architecture review, competitive analysis design sprints, or the Business Model Canvas will depend on the context of the organization and the particular initiative you are working on.

 

Lean Inception: When to use it?

There are many perspectives to consider for deciding when to do a Lean Inception. Here are a few:

– When doing Lean StartUp – when there are multiple experiments, based on the build-measure-learn Lean StartUp cycle. You should validate business requests before going to solutioning mode. Experiments and performing user research, for example, are carried out to validate the hypotheses behind a business request  and, after, with the learnings and insights  built, run a Lean Inception workshop to move forward, to decide the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for building the product.

IMAGE: Lean Inception and Lean StartUp.

 

 Dual Track Development –In this case, Lean Inception is useful for connecting Continuous Discovery and Continuous Delivery. It acts as a bridge between the two tracks, enabling the team to define the next step, which often involves creating an MVP. This ensures a seamless flow of insights, feedback, and rapid iterations, maximizing the effectiveness of the product development process.

IMAGE: Dual Track Development and Lean Inception.

 

Innovative projects with high impact on your business – specifically in this situation, if the level of innovation and the impact on your business are high, you must schedule a Lean Inception. The workshop will be useful to align a group of people on what to pusuit.

Lean Inception is not recommend for cases where there is:

  • low innovation and high impact (be careful not to innovate what is bringing sustenance to your company and risk your current sustenance);
  • high innovation and little impact (make more research, discovery, experimentation and ideation sessions to generate more learning); or
  • low innovation and little impact on your business (don’t waste time).

IMAGE: Lean Inception and Innovative x Impact.

 

– Three Horizons of McKinsey (3Hs) horizon 1 is the “dairy cow”, which is generating revenue for the company today and, generally, does not have Lean Inception, as it is a stable product. Horizon 2 are initiatives that may become a “milk cow”, it is worth doing Lean Inception to identify the direction to take, such as grow the product based on validated insights. And horizon 3 are experiments to generate learning, cases in which Lean Inception is not proper workshop for it.

IMAGE: Lean Inception and 3Hs.

 

– The second D of the Double Diamond (Define) – The four Ds of the Double Diamond (Discover – Define – Develop – Deliver) are a very useful Design Thinking model for designers to organize their thoughts in order to improve the creative process. Lean Inception is ideal for the second D – Define, when you have already enough  discovery and will define a solution proposal and then work on construction and delivery.

IMAGE: Lean Inception and Double Diamond.

 

– After ideation or experimentation sessions – in Experimentation Sprints and ideation moment with a lot of ideas generation, insights and learning, a Lean Inception can be carried out to align the product creation plan based on the MVP.

– In the initial phase of a large project – the use of Lean Inception is indicated to help the team take a safe first step and be sure that it is heading in the right direction.

IMAGE: Lean Inception and the initial phase of a large project.

 

– In the next step to the Business Model Canvas (BMC): The Business Model Canvas is an artifact that shows the business strategy. With this structure defined, the Lean Inception is indicated to define the MVP Canvas and the first validated step towards your business strategy demonstrated in the BMC.

IMAGE: Lean Inception and Business Model Canvas.

 

Lean Inception: When not to use it?

Below is a short list with some examples of when not to do a Lean Inception:

>> Learn more: When to do a Lean Inception?  

 

Who should participate in a Lean Inception?

The participants in a Lean Inception are the business people, the people who represent the user’s needs (often also part of the User eXperience team), and the developers. These must participate in all activities. In the book, Caroli calls these active members.

There are also stakeholders (sponsors, end users, legal, sales and marketing, etc.). These are people who are interested in Lean Inception, but who don’t have time to attend every session. These must participate in the kick-off and showcase, where expectations for the week and the result obtained by the dedicated team in the workshop are presented, respectively.

Lean Inception also has a key participant: the facilitator, whose mission is to support the workshop participants so that they can effectively participate in each planned activity and interaction, dedicating themselves to the process and content, ensuring that the latter is generated in accordance with expectations and goals.

>> Learn more: Facilitation techniques.

 

How to carry out a Lean Inception?

As seen earlier, Lean Inception comprises a series of activities. These are usually scheduled to occur within a week.

“When I tried to do it in less than a week, I realized that the participants couldn’t carry a good brainstorming and have important conversations and alignments before converging and deciding what the MVP is. When I did it in more than a week, I realized that the result went much further. way beyond the MVP, creating plans that were not lean. That’s why I always defend that the Lean Inception should be one week”. Paulo Caroli

But the work starts well before the Lean Inception week. You need a minimum of preparation::

  1. Select and invite participants: Gather a multidisciplinary team with people who will influence the workshop’s outcome, including stakeholders, developers, designers, business experts, user experience specialists, among others.
  2. Choose a facilitator: Select a capable person to lead the Lean Inception and ensure a smooth process.
  3. Set up the environment: Make sure you have a suitable and inspiring space to welcome participants. A location with whiteboards, post-it notes, and writing materials can aid collaboration. Whether your workshop is in-person or remote.
  4. Lean Inception checklist: Use a checklist to ensure you have all the essential items for executing the Lean Inception. This includes templates and materials needed for each activity.

IMAGE: checklist for Presencial Lean Inception 

Below, a sequence of typical activities of a Lean Inception. These activities will be briefly described in the next session of this article, the Lean Inception agenda:

  1. Product vision: Define a clear and shared vision of the product that will be developed. Everyone must understand the purpose and objectives.
  2. Is – Isn’t – Does – Doesn’t: Clarify the characteristics of the product, identifying what it is, what it is not, what it does and what it does not. This avoids ambiguity and defines scope boundaries.
  3. Personas: Share more information about the different user profiles of the product. Understanding their needs and characteristics helps guide decisions.
  4. User Journey: Map out the journey that users will take when interacting with the product. Identify steps, touchpoints and potential challenges.
  5. Brainstorming: Hold creative sessions to generate ideas and features that add value to the product.
  6. Technical, UX and Business Review: Analyze the generated ideas and evaluate their technical feasibility, user experience and business impact. Adjust as needed.
  7. Sequencer: Prioritize features considering their importance and value to users, business and technical feasibility. Create a logical sequence for development.
  8. MVP Canvas: Fill up the MVP Canvas to define the essential elements of the initial path for your product. This helps you focus on the minimum necessary to validate your business direction.

Lean Inception agenda

Below is a suggested Lean Inception agenda template. The template with this sequence is recommended, especially if you want the brainstorming (creation/ideation) of features to be heavily influenced by user journeys.

IMAGE: Lean Inception Agenda template

 

It is important to remember that the activity sessions can be adjusted according to your context for the workshop. Therefore, the suggested agenda has flexibility. For instance, you might decide to add a specific activity to a session. As an example, on a given Lean Inception, once I used the Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies (RAID) activity along side with the Sequencer.

MONDAY

MORNING: Kick-off (The main sponsors share with the participants the reasons and expectations of the business for this workshop. Then, the facilitator reminds everyone of the agenda and dynamics of the Lean Inception and its activities);  and Product Vision (talk about and write the vision for the product , in a collaborative way, with the participation of all active members).

AFTERNOON: The Product Is – Is not – Does – Does not do (This activity seeks classifications about the product following the four guidelines, specifically asking each positive and negative aspect about the product being or doing something; and the Product Goals (Each team member should share what they understand about the goals of the product and this should be discussed so the team can reach consensus on what’s really important).


TUESDAY

MORNING: Persona (To effectively identify the features of a product, a solution, it is important to keep in mind the users and their goals. Therefore, the definition of personas is fundamental).

AFTERNOON: User Journeys (The journey describes a user’s journey through a sequence of steps to reach a goal. Let´s talk about, depict and visualise the main journeys, in a collaborative way, with the participation of all active members).

WEDNESDAY

MORNING: Brainstorming (A brainstorming session to come up with features: description of a user action or interaction with the product. This user is trying to do something, so the product must have feature for that. What is the feature?).

AFTERNOON: Technical, UX and Business Review (Align how the team feels about the technical understanding, the user’s need and the business understanding for each feature, as well as the effort and perception of value for the user and for the business associated with it).


THURSDAY

MORNING: Features in User Journeys (Some of the User Journeys steps represent different points of contact with the product, characterising the user’s interaction with it. Which feature improves the user experience? At which step?).

AFTERNOON: Sequencer (The Sequencer assists in organising and viewing the features and the incremental validation of the product. Define the MVP and its subsequent increments. The features have already been identified, reviewed and made visible in the journeys and/or other artefacts generated in the previous activities. The group is ready to strategise, to prepare a delivery plan, a high level Product backlog).


FRIDAY

MORNING: MVP Canvas (Let´s use the MVP Canvas to, collaboratively, identify the MVP proposal, the expected result, the metrics to validate the business hypnotises, the features, the persona segment, the journeys and the cost and schedule for its delivery).

AFTERNOON: Showcase (So, what is the solution proposal? What is MVP? What is the strategy for creating and evolving this solution?). Now, with all stakeholders present, it’s another opportunity to rethink whether the product strategy, the MVP and its increments make sense. Should we simplify MVP somehow? Should we change something? Do we continue with this initiative?).

>> Learn more: The Lean Inception article on MartinFowelr.com has a nice visual for the agenda and its activities.

Examples of Lean Inception beyond the IT area

When talking about agile methodologies, many people make a direct association with the area of ​​software development, information technology. However, Lean Inception goes beyond these possibilities, and can be applied in different areas, as can be seen below in two cases: Globo and Hospital Sírio Libanês.

– Largest Brazilian Media Company Uses Lean inception to Create a TV show (Globo)

Mestre do Sabor, a multi-channel gastronomy reality show, emerged as a good opportunity to combine the best of Globo’s TV and internet skills. That’s when the company’s leaders saw in Lean Inception an opportunity to promote alignment around a common objective for all areas: to generate more value for the consumer on the internet.

>> Learn more: Case Lean Inception at Mestre do Sabor.

– The search for results should be the objective of all members of an organisation (Hospital Sírio Libanês)

In this case, Lean Inception changed the view of work within Hospital Sírio Libanês, providing much greater clarity on what needs to be done, results, priorities, the role of the people involved in each stage, which can be discarded because it is not as valuable and much more.

>> Learn more: Case Lean Inception at Hospital Sírio Libanês.

 

What happens before and after a Lean Inception?

What comes before and after a Lean Inception depends on several factors, such as the context of your organization and what the group is looking for after the workshop. But sometimes there is a sandwich with Lean Inception: something before, Lean Inception and something after.

A Lean Inception sandwich

What usually happens is that Lean Inception is in the middle, there’s something going on before and something going on after. Despite being called inception, it is rarely the beginning.

Design Sprint, Lean Inception, PBB

Design Sprint, Lean Inception, and then a PBB. This is a widely used combination in Brazil. You start with a Design Sprint to check the options and decide the winning prototype. Having the product prototype, then you do a Lean Inception to decide the MVP, where to start and what the next increments are. And then you do a PBB to create the user stories and work on the Sprints.

 

Business Model Canvas, Lean Inception, Kanban

Another common combination shared by ​​entrepreneurs is starting with the BMC to understand the business strategy; follow up with a Lean Inception to understand the MVP strategy; and finish with a Kanban of everything that has to be done to deliver the solution very successfully.

 

Data Mesh Accelerate Workshop, Lean Inception, Event Storming

This option is being used by organisations going through Data Mesh transformation.  You start with a Date Mesh Accelerate Workshop to align and understand the Data Mesh strategic goals and scope, then you choose the pilot initiative that will be worked on in Lean Inception. Then comes a more technical and more specific Event Storming in relation to that initiative that is mapped into an incremental delivery plan thanks to the Lean Inception.

 

PI Planning, Lean Inception, Ways of Working, User Story Mapping

This sequence has been shared by a few colleagues working with SAFe. You start with  a PI Planning to align the overall program work and define the tracks. Then, for each track, you do a Lean Inception, followed by the Ways of Working for that team and, finally, the User Story Mapping to map user stories based on journeys.

 

On-boarding, Lean Inception, Sprint 0

And, finally, a typical combination used by many consultancies. You start with an on-boarding period for a group of people into the new project or initiative. On these, typically there is lots of context and knowledge sharing as well as many  team building activities. Then, with the team already onboard, a Lean Inception is carried out to align on the product that will be built. And then it follows with a Sprint Zero so that the team prepare the ground to  start working and delivering effectively on the following Sprints.

 

Remote Lean Inception

Effectively running multi-day remote workshops was considered very difficult, especially before 2020. Then the Covid-19 pandemic forced everyone to change their working tools and habits. In in many cases, a remote Lean Inception represents the only way to have the entire team present, even if not physically.

A well-structured remote workshop comprises a well-guided process (such as Lean Inception) and tools for specific needs, such as: Zoom for videoconferencing, Miro or Mural for visual collaboration and FunRetrospectives for energizers and remote retrospectives.

Remote Lean Inceptions are as successful as in-person Lean Inceptions! In fact, in a new world, with even more distributed teams, the importance of initial alignment via Lean Inception has made them even more essential to achieve success!

>> Learn more: What tools did I use in remote Lean Inception?

>> Learn more: Watch the video about Lean Inception board by Miro 

 

Lean Inception and Lean StartUp

Lean StartUp is an approach based on building-measure-learning cycles, which provides a lot of learning and experimentation. After achieving learning and business direction via Lean StartUp cycles, the Lean Inception is indicated in order to decide what will be the first step towards the Minimum Viable Product to be built aiming at a successful solution, product creation and product-market fit validation.

In this way, from Lean Inception, you will have an effective plan to validate and experiment (and continue evolving in the build-measure-learn cycle): What are we going to build in this MVP? How do we measure the results of this MVP? What learning or result are we looking for in this MVP?

>> Learn more about this topic by clicking here

 

Lean Inception and Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an important method based on understanding the user and their journeys, knowing at the end what to build and for whom. Thus, we have the Double Diamond (the four Ds): Discover, which opens many options; Define, which will close the number of options and choose which one you will pursue; Develop, the development work; and the Deliver, the delivery of the product, the solution.

Design Thinking and Lean Inception are complementary. However, it is not ideal for all moments of Design Thinking, but perfect in the second D, Define, when the options will be closed with the understanding of the discovery and you will decide your MVP, where to start and assemble the proposal of solution that will be developed and placed in the hands of users, to validate the direction of your business.

 

Lean Inception and Design Sprint

The Lean Inception workshop has an important outcome: a plan for the MVP, collaboratively built by the workshop participants.  Similarly to Lean Inception, the Design Sprint is also a workshop with a clear five-day agenda, but with a different outcome: a prototype, collaboratively build and tested by the workshop participants.

If you ask me, which one should I do Lean Inception or Design Sprint?

My answer: both! Do a Design Sprint for the solution ideation and then a Lean Inception to align and define how to start building and validating the product: via the MVP. The thing is, while some users like the prototype, that doesn’t mean early adopters will use it or buy it. You still need to validate your product.

One of the main differences between the two is in the focus of the participants. In the Design Sprint, the focus is on the design team (a group of experts guiding the conversation, designing solutions, creating and testing prototypes). In Lean Inception, there is no group-specific bias. Neither design, nor business, nor developers. In Lean Inception, the business people, the people representing the user’s needs (often these people are also part of the design team) and the developers, all together will look for the intersection and decide the way forward, guided by the MVP.

>> Learn more: 3 Differences Between Design Sprint and Lean Inception You Need To Know

 

Lean Inception and Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the way in which agile teams and startups create, validate and evolve their products and businesses. To quickly validate the minimum product is fundamental to the success of the business, not only to satisfy customers, but also to meet and evolve the product based on the real needs of users.

In a Lean Inception, the end result is the definition of a plan for the MVP. So, by following the Lean Inception step by step and using the MVP Canvas, you will be able to align, understand and create your Minimum Viable Product.

>> Learn more: MVP: how to build the Minimum Viable Product. 

 

Lean Inception and Scrum

Scrum is considered the most famous agile methodology. Scrum is organised as a process of continuous development via time-boxed cycles called Sprints, which allow teams to maintain a cadence of work. The model is also used to organize goals, eliminate bottlenecks and, still, avoid future problems, being also useful in areas beyond software and information technology.

Modern practices such as Lean Inception have the function of complementing Scrum, especially on issues related to the search for effectiveness, helping to define what the Scrum team should work on, the Product Backlog and the product increments. After a Lean Inception, when a team needs to build the MVP and the following product increments, Scrum is an excellent framework to help manage the team and monitor the work at this stage of construction.

 

Lean Inception and Product Backlog Building (PBB)

The method Product Backlog Building (PBB), developed by Fábio Aguiar main objective is to assist in the construction and refinement of the Sprint Backlog in a collaborative way.

PBB dynamic consists of experiencing, in practice, the elaboration of this effective backlog, involving all the people who will work on the product, clarifying the user stories and the Product Backlog Items (PBIs). The Product Backlog Building Canvas
is a collaborative tool to write good User Stories.

The two methods – Lean Inception and PBB – can be used separately, however, you can combine them, taking the best of each. With Lean Inception, you get to the Product Backlog and product increments level (features), and with PBB, you can take the next step of Lean Inception: breaking features into backlog items and writing user stories, typically for the Sprint Backlog.

>> Learn more: Product Backlog Building Canvas, a collaborative tool to write User Stories.

Lean Inception and Kanban

Idealized by David J. Anderson, Kanban, in short, is a method used for managing and optimizing the workflow of an incremental and evolutionary process. The initiative, influenced by the Toyota Just-In-Time model, is based on visualizing the workflow and, from there, acting on the process so as not to overload team members.

Thus, Kanban has three phases: make the work visible, limit the amount of work in progress, and continuously improve the process. While Lean Inception helps a team to be effective, aligning people on the product backlog, MVP and product increments, Kanban helps that team to be efficient in the way they work. Therefore, the use of methods can also be complementary.

>> Learn more: What is Kanban? 

 

Lean Inception and SAFe

The Program Increment (PI) Planning is a collaborative workshop typically of one day, with the meeting of several teams to align them all and, thus, decide and synchronise the tracks (then the teams must decide their respective trains).

Unlike PI Planning, Lean Inception is a collaborative workshop typically lasting one week and with approximately 12 people – a single team, which decides the first train wagon (the MVP).

PI planning is fundamental to SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), an agile framework at scale with the aim of promoting the alignment of teams and workflows in an agile way. Each team after the PI planning can carry out its Lean Inception, defining the MVP and following product increments for their high level work commitment.

Lean Inception and OKR

OKRs, short for Objectives and Key Results, can be considered a compass for the organization or a team, allowing the answer to the following questions: What to focus on? and how do we align everyone to work towards to the same results?

In this sense, the objectives begin to align with the qualitative goals in relation to the vision – where do we want to go? – and key results are measurable quantitative results that work towards goals – how do we know if we are getting there?

Lean Inception helps teams that use OKR, providing a clear mapping between the desired outcomes, described in the OKR, with the deliverables – output – via an aligned for MVP and following product increments.

>> Learn more: Connecting the dots – Vision, OKR, Scrum, Lean Inception, Outcome and output.

 

Lean Inception and User Story Mapping

The User Story Mapping (USM) technique is an initiative conceived by Jeff Patton in order to prioritize agile projects in a way that is centered on the user journey.

User Story Mapping can be used as a complementary tool to Lean Inception. First, it is indicated that you run your Lean Inception and discover the MVP to validate the business hypotheses. Then create your USM, as it will show you how to cut and build your MVP with user stories, based on your journeys.

 

What are the Lean Inception Certifications and Trainings?

Caroli.org has two Certifications in the area of ​​Lean Inception: Certified Lean Inception Trainer (CLT®) and Certified Lean Inception Facilitator (CLF®), respectively, for authorized Lean Inception trainers and for people who participate in Lean Inception training. .

As for Lean Inception Trainings, you have two great options: Online and live Lean Inception Training and Lean Inception on Udemy, which is recorded training. Some people do one and then the other. Most people have done both.l

Online and live allows the exchange of experiences between people who are seeking this knowledge. It is taught by someone prominent in the community who has facilitated Lean Inceptions. With a lot of networking, you participate in a simulated Lean Inception, with groups of people working on the same product vision and with the opportunity to answer questions during each class.

In Udemy, in addition to having extra material on the history of Lean Inception, when to do it, when not to do it, details on facilitation techniques, among other content, you have the freedom to attend classes wherever and as many times as you want, considering that is recorded. All material was recorded by Paulo Caroli, author of Lean Inception.

>> Caroli.org has many other trainings, many of which are complementary and related to Lean Inception. check it out here.

Did you like this article? At Caroli.org, there is a lot of content on Lean Inception and many other subjects, such as our Books and Trainings. Be sure to check it out and improve your knowledge.

Read the testimony of professional Johan van Zeist, Hoofd Marketing & Sustainability Champion at TRILUX Benelux, who participated in a Lean Inception at the Web Summit in Lisbon, with the author and creator of the method Paulo Caroli.

 

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