Lean methodology has been well defined in an attempt to differentiate itself from other methods that pre-existed. It has its roots in Lean Manufacturing, Agile methods, and, last but not least, Bootstrapping. As you would expect, there is nothing new under the sun.
All of these methodologies share common ground with Lean Startup but there also enjoy distinct differences.
For example, Agile remains a good basic method for software developers but it cannot be used to develop other businesses. Lean methodology fills the gap with the application of customer development, idea generation, design thinking and other tools.
Similarly, Lean Manufacturing is used widely in the manufacturing sector but it can be applied elsewhere with great difficulty, as its basic principles are self-limiting.
In some cases, lean methodology is confused with Bootstrapping. I would like to acknowledge that the frugality implied in bootstrapping startups is not necessarily the aim of lean startups. Instead, they should focus on using hard data, learning from them and, thus, avoiding the waste of time and money.
Lean practitioners insist that cost is not so important as speed in many cases. The startup is supposed to learn the lessons and iterate several times before s/he manages to find a winning business model.
The idea seems to be clear cut and works well in the western world and some of the developing countries, where there is higher potential for growth. What happens, though, to those countries that are already bankrupt, they suffer from devaluation, there is no growth or cash liquidity in the markets? What happens to Greece?
I have been following closely the startup scene in Athens for the past 18 months. I have witnessed many attempts to establish new businesses and to develop them into full grown companies. And, in every single case, bootstrapping seemed to be an integral part.
There is no doubt that lean methodology can be applied to all startups, including companies that are already experiencing high growth and have substantial assets. There is no doubt that the development of some products (even MVPs) may take thousands of pounds/ dollars/ euros before they are complete. There is no doubt that lean methodology will save you both time and money in the process… but it is not enough.
Lean methods alone are falling short in lean economies, such as the Greek one. So far, the investors fled, taking with them essential funds for the rejuvenation of the startup scene. At the same time, the governments are placing more obstacles by using obsolete laws to control (and effectively subsume) entrepreneurship. Similarly, the European Union and the IMF seem to be more interested in recovering their interest rates than supporting the growth of the economy.
What is left in the country is the sheer determination of its citizens to survive and the meager leftovers to start something new.
In extreme cases like this one, we should not distinguish between lean methodology and bootstrapping. One should become integral part of the other, and they should work together to support the work of the startup.
Ash Maurya’s visual comparison between Lean Methodology and Bootstrapping (http://practicetrumpstheory.com/2010/03/bootstrapping-a-lean-startup/) gives us an indication of the direction we should be taking. Combining the two methods may be the only way to salvation.
The complementary nature of the two does not always allow for clear divisions. Distinguishing clearly the different aspect of the two methods in some cases is not feasible. In fact, I think that trying to define more closely the characteristics of Lean methodology or Bootstrapping may be an excellent academic exercise but it will yield no tangible results. If anything, it will inhibit the process of making a startup in Greece.
Instead, we should try to be more creative by combining, entangling and mingling their otherwise (or under other economic conditions) distinct aspects. This way, we will increase the chances of innovative and financially healthy businesses.