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Running Lean - Book summary

Innovation is vital for the success of any business, be it a startup or an established company. This book by Ash Maurya builds on 3 well-known concepts—Lean Startup, Customer Development, and Bootstrapping—to provide a step-by-step blueprint to improve your chances of successfully developing new products or services. In this free Running Lean summary, you’ll get an overview of the key concepts and 3-part approach to Running Lean.

Running Lean: Key Foundations

Most startups fail. Among those that succeed, two-thirds were found to have changed their plans drastically. This means that having a great initial plan is not as vital as the ability to switch to a viable alternative before you run out of resources. Part of the challenge is figuring out what can and should be built.

The Running Lean blueprint is not a magic bullet that guarantees success. It is a proven process to maximize improvement and learning so you can increase your chances of success. The key is to apply and adapt it to steepen your own learning curve. Let’s take a quick look at what the process entails.

3 Key Thought Processes

Running Lean is built on:

Customer Development (by Steve Blank) is a framework for incorporating customers’ inputs into your product development cycle.

Bootstrapping is about taking the right action at the right time, so you can make progress with minimal external debt or funding.

Lean Startup (by Eric Ries) is about maximizing learning and minimizing waste in the innovation process; it combines Customer Development, Agile software development methods and Toyota’s Lean practices.

3 Key Meta-Principles

Ash Maurya synthesized these ideas into 3 key meta-principles and a process to maximize your chances of creating a successful new product/service:

• Document your initial plan in 1 page;

• Identify the riskiest parts of the plan; and

• Systematically test the plan.

For specific details, examples and application tips, do check out the full 17-page version of Running Lean summary. Meantime, let’s dive in to an overview of the key ideas.

Learning vs Scaling

Before we move into the innovation process, it’s important to understand that every startup goes through 3 key stages.

Running Lean Summary_3 stages of startup growthYou can learn more about each of the 3 stages in the complete version of our Running Lean summary. The basic idea is this: Initially, focus on learning and pivots to make sure you have a “must-have” solution and a viable plan to deliver it. You’re only ready to scale and attract investors after you’ve validated your business model.

In other words, don’t waste your time with optimization or automation before you’re ready. That’s what the bulk of Running Lean is about–having a plan that actually works.

Part 1: Document Plan A (your initial plan)

Most initial plans don’t work. In order to test and refine your plan, you must first capture your business plan and hypotheses. The Lean Canvas (adapted from Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas) is a key tool in the Running Lean framework–the idea is to have a fast, concise and portable 1-page tactical blueprint that you can easily share and review.  This is important because fundamentally, your real product is not the product you’re selling, but your entire integrated business model. The canvas helps you to define 9 vital aspects of your business, so you can systematically test them in order of priority and ensure they’re aligned.Running Lean Summary_Lean Canvas

In the complete Running Lean summary, we explain each of the 9 components + tips on filling up the canvas. Maurya also gives a detailed walkthrough using his product CloudFire as an example in his book. Fill the canvas in 1 sitting (ideally <15 min) in the order indicated:
• #1/2: Problem & Customer Segments.
• #3: Unique Value Proposition (UVP).
• #4: Solution.
• #5: Channels.
• #6/7: Revenue Streams & Cost Structure.
• #8: Key Metrics.
• #9: Unfair Advantage.

Part 2: Identify the Riskiest Aspects of your Plan

With enough time and resources, anything can be built. The biggest risk of a startup isn’t building something that doesn’t work; it’s building something that no one wants.

Prioritize where to Start

All startups face 3 key types of risks: product risk (not getting the product right), customer risk (not being able to reach your customers) and market risk (not building a viable business). By the time you’ve fleshed out your canvases (Step 1), you’ll have a range of customer segments/business models to choose from.

In our full summary, we explain how to rank your business models so you can decide which one to start testing.

Get Ready to Experiment

Before you move into customer interviews, share your model with at least 1 other person. In our full Running Lean summary, we cover more tips on how to seek external advice effectively.

Form Problem-Solution Teams

Instead of functional roles/labels, put people into 2 teams: a problem team that mainly handles external interfaces (e.g. interview customers, run usability tests), and a solution team that mainly handles internal activities (e.g. write codes, plan the launch. Ensure the 2 teams work together.

Part 3: Systematically Test your Plan

You’re now ready to use a series of experiments (each with a Build-Measure-Learn loop) to test your plan. In our complete summary bundle, we’ll share specific details on the following:

• Details of the 4-part testing process to systematically test the 9 components of your business plan in phases. These include: (i) Understand the Problem => (ii) Define the Solution => (iii) Validate Qualitatively => (iv) Verify Quantitatively (then repeat the loop);

Specific tips for running effective experiments; and

How to talk to customers or run customer interviews

Running Lean Summary_Test your Plan

Getting the Most from “Running Lean”

Ready to start developing a viable plan for your startup? Do get our full book summary bundle for a detailed overview of the key components, steps and tips from Running Lean. It includes an infographic, a 17-page text summary, and a 25-minute audio summary.

Running lean summary - book summary bundleThis book is packed with details and information including:
• Diagrams and samples of canvases, hypotheses, tools/tips, email and interview scripts;
• Detailed examples of how Maurya applied the principles/processes to Cloudflare and the creation of this book; and
• Recommended links/resources and bonus material in the Appendix, such as tips on how to build a low-burn startup, how to build a teaser page/conversion dashboard etc.

You can purchase the book here, visit for more info, or create your canvas online at

Want to learn more about building a lean and mean startup?  Do check out The Lean Startup summary and Traction summary.

About the Author of Running Lean

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan that Works is written by Ash Maurya—an author, entrepreneur and consultant. He was the Founder and CEO of WiredReach, and regularly hosts workshops globally. He serves as a mentor to several accelerators including TechStars, Accelerace, Slingshot, and guest lecturers at several universities including MIT, Harvard, and UT Austin. He serves on the advisory board of a number of startups, and consults for new and established companies.

Running Lean Quotes

“What separates successful startups from unsuccessful ones is…that they find a plan that works before running out of resources.”

“Understand your customer’s worldview before formulating a solution.”

“Usually the right price is the one the customer accepts, but with a little resistance.”

“Your MVP should be like a great reduction sauce—concentrated, intense and flavorful.”

“Most customers are great at articulating problems but not at visualizing solutions.”

“The fastest way to learn from customers is to talk to them.”

“Once you truly understand what’s riskiest about your product, it’s often possible to build something other than the product to test it.”

“While ideas are cheap, acting on them is quite expensive.”

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Develop a plan that works and innovate successfully!

Click here to download the Running Lean book summary and infographic

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