Steve Blank
Steve Blank

"The first time a few brave corporate innovators tried to overlay the Lean tools and techniques that work in early-stage startups in an existing corporation or government agency, the result was chaos, confusion, frustration and ultimately, failure.
They ended up with “Innovation Theater” – great projects, wonderful press releases about how innovative the company is – but no real substantive change in product trajectory."

If we cut through the hype, is Lean indeed the way to go for large enterprises to innovate faster – and better?

We’ve asked six experienced corporate intrapreneurs to share their perspectives on why most organizations are struggling with implementing Lean and how to improve.

Tristan Kromer, Trikro
Tristan Kromer, Trikro

Lack of ecosystem-thinking

"There are a number of reasons why companies struggle with Lean. Assigning part-time people to innovation projects, incomplete teams, too much funding, too little funding, overzealous branding and legal departments preventing contact with customers – and more.

The biggest problem is a lack of ecosystem-thinking. Companies think throwing a few part-time people at innovation will work miracles, but it takes a concerted effort to start eliminating innovation obstacles within a corporation.

Having said this, there are plenty examples where it’s going well but they just aren't allowed to discuss the details of their projects.

I've worked with teams at companies like Fujitsu, Swisscom, and even Walmart who are really implementing lean and getting fast enough to run one or more experiments per week. That's a huge change for companies that typically spend over a year in product development before their ideas ever touch a customer."

Kees van Nunen

Lack of understanding what Lean truly means

"I think the biggest reason why it’s not working is the lack of clear understanding of the impact what it truly means to work Lean.

Lean is often seen as just a simple process that you implement on an operational level, but for me it is way more. It is a mindset, with a set of core principles, which lead to changes in the way how to frame problems, define progress & measure results.

Most of the time, management teams don’t grasp the essence of Lean and don’t all take the necessary steps to guarantee success.

You need to change the way teams work, train people in new skills, steer on outcome instead of output, accept failure (frame it as success) and become a different type of leader which enables instead of controls, that gives teams freedom and autonomy to act. It is a hard and difficult transition, one which most people are not willing to make."

Joris van Heukelom
Joris van Heukelom

"Introducing Lean without tackling all elements of your innovation ecosystem will never work. Lean is only the fun part- I could even claim it is the easy part. Changing your governance to support innovation is much more complicated."


Niek Otten
Niek Otten

Lack of willingness to really change

"To me, the strength of the Lean Startup method is in its way of thinking rather than the exact recipe: starting from a fundamental need or desire, and then having the guts to challenge conventional truths. Adopting such principles requires different processes and, more importantly, different mindsets.

For it to work, it should become more than a hobby – a company trying to keep up with the latest management trends. It needs guidance and vision. It needs the right set of people who get rewarded for their best mistakes.

And it needs a promise that if something big is coming out, the company is prepared to do something with it. Because perhaps the most terrifying thing about really getting Lean is that you might arrive at the conclusion that the company really needs to change."

Maarten Boertien
Maarten Boertien

Lack of saying goodbye to traditional corporate thinking

"Within Philips, I know numerous examples of project teams that have created mind-blowing innovations by applying Lean principles. I think one of the most important drivers for using lean is the changing business landscape. Recent developments in for example technology create uncertainty towards the future and propel the need for a new approach. In such an environment, I think Lean is one of the most valuable methods to use.

Crucial for implementing Lean is that other colleagues embrace it as a new way of thinking. That proves to be very difficult for those who have grown up in an environment characterized by traditional corporate thinking.

Especially under extreme uncertainty, people tend to adhere to their long-standing principles. Yet, Lean is different in terms of how we measure progress, how we set up milestones, and when we validate insights with customers - so it requires a different mindset.

For me, this has been the most difficult thing when started with Lean. For instance, when it takes more time than expected to deliver results it is sometimes difficult to explain that you are doing the right thing, while you also need additional investments for your project. How to explain this to your stakeholders still holding on to the traditional management approach?"

Marie Louise Kok
Marie Louise Kok

Lack of implementation at all levels - especially management

"For many colleagues, the Lean Startup methodology was truly an eye-opener - in the customer discovery and ideation phases it worked wonders. But in the next phase of building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), to establish product-market fit, it was different.

There, management pressure stood in the way of real data-driven decisions, because of the KPI’s, board meetings, P&L’s and targets. Also, some internal stakeholders considered the early MVP’s a real product or service, which made it hard to get support and funding.

Of course, if your MVP is considered a real product by your potential customers, you’re doing a very good job. But internally, it triggers management to give the exact response you don’t want:

“Yeah yeah, build/measure/learn…I know…working Lean…yeah, but the target is 500k by the end of the year, so when is the TV campaign scheduled?”

In other words, management mistakenly thinks the Lean Startup methodology helps you to build a new money-making product really fast – in three months max. But sometimes, or maybe, often times, this is not the case. Maybe after three months, the best advice is to stop or pivot or sell or buy in or collaborate or merge or…. That’s difficult for many to understand or accept.

As an intrapreneur, I have been involved in six “lean projects” in three years, and coach both students and professionals about the Lean Startup method. Usually, people understand the theory pretty fast. But acting on it is a whole different game.

We all know, success comes from proper execution and implementation, not in the idea. As much as that's true for innovation, it seems true for Lean Startup as a method for innovation itself!"