Lean Thinking rose to prominence in the manufacturing sector of the 1950s. Since then, it has proven its fundamental principles to be relevant for other verticals as well, such as IT. These techniques have become part and parcel for the modern business competing in the fast-paced digital economy.
Lean techniques have proven so successful that they have given rise to a set of principles for launching new companies and enhancing existing firms. Eric Ries’ best-selling book, The Lean Startup, has become the bible for entrepreneurs aiming to maximize their chances of success in the ever-changing business climate. One of the fundamental techniques Ries advocates is the pivot — a structured business model course correction should executives decide that their current model no longer workable based on the results they’ve experienced.
Pivoting is the heart and soul of Lean Thinking. Rather than sticking to an original business plan that no longer holds promise, entrepreneurs can trust their market intuition and shift to a business model that they hadn’t considered before. But as always, the devil is in the details. If IT leaders have already laid the technological foundation for their original plan, they risk throwing much of it away to seize a new opportunity, resulting in waste— the arch-enemy of Lean.
Software-defined infrastructure (SDI) offers a way for Lean firms to pivot into a completely new business model quickly, with a minimum of waste. By writing their IT infrastructure into a digital blueprint, companies can implement new data center models with pinpoint agility. This allows them to take advantage of new business models regardless of how drastically they diverge from their previous standard operating procedure. In this way, SDI saves firms of all sizes two critical commodities they desperately need and can never get back: time and money.
Lean Startup: Iterating to Learn
In order to transform the corporate vision into a product or service people will buy, entrepreneurs and CEOs must execute a series three-step feedback cycles to find a product/market fit. It is important to note that this process holds true for established firms as well as ambitious startups when exploring new market offerings.
A single cycle consists of three basic steps…
- Build — Develop a minimum viable product (MVP)
- Measure — Determine the MVP’s effectiveness in the market
- Learn — Draw conclusions from measurements to either persevere with the current business model or pivot to another
Over the course of these feedback loop iterations, the firm may find itself very close to product/market fit. In this case, they may need only to make minor adjustments to go the rest of the way. On the other hand, it may discover that their offerings are nowhere near alignment with their target market. When that happens, they must execute a pivot.
A pivot is essentially a change of business strategy without a complete change of vision. Perhaps the firm finds that it has a good product that is aimed at the wrong target market. On the other hand, their market may have needs they didn’t see at launch time, so an offering adjustment is required to meet market demands. The requisite change most likely isn’t a total strategic overhaul, but when market experiments have ceased to be productive, the firm has no choice but to adjust.
Lean Pivot: Not Just for Marketing Anymore
Without question, Eric Ries had the marketing function firmly in mind when he came up with the Lean pivot notion. But reality is every function in the enterprise must pivot in perfect synchronization if a company is to succeed and eventually thrive. Because many a promising product launch has failed due poor IT agility, CTOs should structure their data centers as agile as possible in anticipation of a Lean pivot.
When it comes to IT, however, pivoting is far easier said than done. A drastic pivot may render a firm’s IT infrastructure totally inappropriate for the new corporate direction, requiring changes that may take months for human administrators to implement. But with the advent of software-defined infrastructure, even wholesale changes in network topology can be accomplished in plenty of time to align with a new vision.
Software-defined infrastructure transforms IT delivery by offering compute assets as a virtualized service. Technical professionals create smart templates that produce IaaS instances for them. Then they run those blueprints through a powerful SDI engine to produce private or hybrid cloud configurations at the drop of an icon. Rather than wait months for an IT team to manually provision new infrastructure, an entire alternative data center can be produced as a virtualized cloud service in a matter of minutes, saving precious time and money.
Though every entrepreneur needs to be confident that his business idea is strong enough to achieve the all-important product/market fit, few achieve the right alignment at the first iteration. If IT is to pivot as quickly as the Lean startup needs for it to, they can’t afford to implement everything by hand. Software-defined architecture allows the firm to implement Lean IT principles quickly and easily, while keeping costs and IT waste to an absolute minimum.