Much hoopla has been made in startup circles of late about lean methodology. In some respects I agree with the idea of launching early and iterating. However, it can contain two major traps.
Firstly, it is predicated on user-led innovation to iterate product. Based on what your users are doing with your product, you tweak it to suit. Sounds simple and somewhat logical, right? But what if your users don’t know what they want and are simply reacting to the status quo.
I believe design-driven innovation, the ability to determine new meanings in a market and create products users will delight in is a better method. The iPad is a classic in this respect and Apple is a design-driven innovator of note.
Secondly, releasing product early can be extremely costly. This is what Marc Hedlund, CEO and Founder of Wesabe, had to say in his post explaining why they lost out to Mint and shut down:
There’s a lot to be said for not rushing to market, and learning from the mistakes the first entrants make. Shipping a ‘minimum viable product’ immediately and learning from the market directly makes good sense to me, but engaging with and supporting users is anything but free. Observation can be cheaper.
In summary, my experience tells me that lean startup methodologies have there place, but relying on them blindly as pure startup dogma can be problematical.