This week we are going to be starting our first series. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be releasing a series of posts explaining how the lean startup philosophy can be used in any business, nonprofit, or life. The lean startup is a method of running a business that revolves around being able to change quickly. Much of this process is applicable to almost every aspect of business and life.

The biggest reason that the lean startup is an effective business process is that it allows experimentation. You need to be moving forward and improving. Failure is helpful, but you never want to use up tons of money and time on an idea that may not work out. That’s where the lean startup can help. The whole idea can basically be summed up to: get your idea out as quickly and cheaply as possible and if it works, invest more time and money.

Applying this in business usually means getting a prototype built and to the market as quickly as possible, without using any unnecessary resources. However, this can also be used in service industries. Start with the minimum, not many employees, no additional resources, and a focused set of available services. You see how things work in the small, contained environment, and then start adding things in gradually. In a nonprofit, this can mean starting with one service that fits within your mission. Then expand out from there. Improve on your first service and keep moving, trying new things and improving on your system.

A good analogy for this process is dating. Most people don’t meet someone and immediately marry them. Very few people end up marrying the first person they ever went on a date with. Honestly, not many people are lucky enough to marry the first person that they are in a long-term relationship with. Yes, it happens, but not all the time. We all know that, so why does it matter? Well think about the reason that we don’t usually get married immediately. Why do we date people for a few years before making that commitment? Because we want to make sure it is going to work out. Marriage is a huge commitment and if it doesn’t work out, it is going to have wasted a lot of time and money and you’re going to end up very disappointed.

Now I know, you may be thinking, well now you’re saying we need to hold off on making big decisions. The answer to that is no. Because we date. We have a trial period to do some research on who this person is, make sure they are a right fit, make sure this commitment is going to be beneficial in the long run.

Now think about when you are deciding to ask someone out. There are a lot of different ideas on this topic, but at some point you are going to have to go for it. Ask the question and see where it goes. Of course you thought through the idea, gathered some research, etc. But in the end you have to make a decision. You’re not going to wait around until you have enough data to support a decision to marry the person. You are going to start dating them and see how things go. You get to see if anything needs to be worked out before you decide to marry them.

You’ve given it some thought and you want to try it out. You’re not going to put in all the money and the time that marriage requires straight from the start. You just want to get something started to see how it goes. Translate that idea to business and you have the thought process behind a lean startup.

Of course, by getting the idea out there, you figure out how well it works and can make necessary improvements before moving forward. Many small business and nonprofits got their start this way, without really thinking about it, because it is a logical way to go. You start small and then move forward from there. Now you have the basic idea, but there is a bit more to it when you fully plan it out, such as not doing too much, not getting bogged down in the small details, making sure that you have good focus, etc. Many of these topics will be covered in later posts in this series. Stay tuned!