Analysis Paralysis (and Blaming Lean Startup)

Lately, I’m getting more and more feedback from entrepreneurs that Lean Startup is holding them back.

I’m seeing this in action as well; startups that are “stuck” in a permanent mode of analysis with little to no action.

Entrepreneurs blame the Lean Startup process. They point out that the need to validate everything before moving forward slows them down and confuses them too much. They’d rather just go ahead with something and define that as progress.

There are a few things at work here.

For starters, I’ve written about the pace of Lean Startup before, because at certain stages it does feel slow.

The goal of Lean Startup isn’t to slow you down, but it is designed to make you think critically about what you’re doing and amass (some form of) proof that you’re heading in the right direction before barreling ahead. Those that go through the early customer development and Lean Startup process may feel paralyzed or derailed for a bit, but they come out the other end with a much clearer picture of where to run. And then, you run. As fast as you can.

Secondly, it seems that entrepreneurs are genuinely struggling with how to run good experiments.

It’s a combination of not knowing how to do it and also not wanting to. Being good at running experiments and following the Lean Startup methodology takes practice. It’s really as simple as that. You either put in the effort or you don’t. You either believe it adds value or you don’t. If you want to remain completely delusional throughout the startup process, you’re welcome to do so, but your odds of success are terrible.

Entrepreneurs also struggle a great deal with the idea that they’ll be forced to “throw out their work.” The idea that a hypothesis and experiment may fail feels like a total waste of time. And I get that; no one wants to feel like they’re wasting their time. You have to realize that a failed experiment – if it was well designed and intended – is incredibly valuable. Rovio tried 51 games before hitting on Angry Birds. It took them 8 years. No one is suggesting you try 51 things over 8 years before finding something successful, but as long as you’re genuinely learning through failed experiments, then you’re moving closer to success.

A good experiment needs a clear outcome. The same holds true with customer development interviews. There needs to be a very specific point to the effort. Good experiments and customer development interviews are supposed to make decision-making easier, and lead to specific next steps. If that’s not happening, you need to figure out why and change how you’re running experiments and interviews. Otherwise you’ll absolutely be paralyzed.

Finally, I get the feeling that entrepreneurs think that Lean Startup is sucking the guts out of startups.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. No startup succeeds by simply following a methodology. There’s no formula for success. There are simply too many variables, most of which you cannot control. Your guts (or instincts) are crucial throughout the startup experience. You’ll make decisions on imperfect data (even following Lean Startup). You’ll have sudden sparks of inspiration and insight, connecting dots that no one else has in quite the same way, and have to execute on those sparks quickly. You’ll play your hunches.

At the end of the day, you – as the founder of your startup – make the decisions. You’re in charge. No one’s trying to take that way from you, or turn your guts and instinct into a mechanical, fully calculable process. Startups are too crazy for that. Just as you can align big vision and Lean Startup you can do the same with instinct and Lean Startup. So don’t use this as an excuse. Lean Startup is a framework for helping, for de-risking things and guiding decision-making. But Lean Startup is not a guarantee.

You can escape analysis paralysis in a number of ways. You can listen to your instincts and just do something, pick a path and plant a flag in the ground. You can also run more experiments. You can do both together. Startups are crazy but they don’t have to be insanely messy. You can apply some method to the madness and improve your focus. Run small experiments in a few days to get out of a funk and learn something. Make some quick decisions, test your assumptions and go from there. Don’t sit in the office staring at your screen waiting for something to happen. Mentors can help too. They bring an honest, outside opinion that may shake you loose. They might also confuse the situation further though, if they’re providing disparate feedback. So be careful.

Almost every startup goes through analysis paralysis at some point during its existence. But if it’s happening consistently and for long periods of time, you have to look at your decision-making processes and your willingness to experiment outside of your comfort zone (and fail). You can’t sit there and blame Lean Startup or anything else; it’s up to you to break out of it and push forward.

April 16, 2012 Posted in Lean Startup by

  • http://www.ashmaurya.com/ Ash Maurya

    Ben - 

    You hit the nail on the hand. I’ve met people in two extreme camps – those you describe that are afraid to run experiments for what it may reveal and those that look/wait for perfect experiments/data. Every experiment must be maximized for speed, learning, and focus. I find myself stringing together a set of experiments into iterations towards achieving a desired goal because standalone experiments are often inconclusive by themselves. . - Rather than chasing perfect data, look for strong signals at first. - Time-box all your experiments and keep them small- Publicly predict what will happen even if doesn’t- Then make bold new hypotheses. That’s your job, not the data.Your batting average will improve. Your appreciation for avoiding dead-ends will increase. And yes be willing to step out of your comfort zone. That’s where the real learning lives.

    Ash

  • http://twitter.com/Pv Patrick Vlaskovits

    Very strong post.  WRT paralysis by analysi, there are multiple dimensions to discuss — almost too much.  :)

    1)  Team

    Is the entire team on board?  If not, doing LS will be tough, to say the least.  Time will be spent arguing over things that don’t matter.  

    2)  Creativity

    Some people are especially good creating “experiments” to test hypotheses, and some people aren’t.  The latter often over-think the process.

    3)  Shu, Ha, Ri of Lean Startup

    Do people get there are no rules to Lean Startup? 

    More on this here: http://vlaskovits.com/2011/02/the-shu-ha-ri-of-lean-startups/

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Thanks for the great comment and link Patrick – always appreciated.

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    “Publicly predict what will happen even if it doesn’t…” – love it, but really, how many  actually do that?

  • http://www.ashmaurya.com/ Ash Maurya

    Agree not many think/want to do this individually… but that’s the job of the external accountability system one has to build around them. In my case, it started with my public blog… today it’s my team and advisors. We kill lots of initiatives weekly simply because the idea has only a marginal or tangential impact.

    Just starting with creating a culture of asking for these expected outcomes will go a long way.

  • branded items

    You are so right. Some things take time. If you are not willing to risk and wanted to stay in the safe side, it might take a while for you to succeed.

  • pekua

    useful post . reading this i understand what to do when a man get paralysis .Thank you for the post.
    http://www.webcoach bd.com

  • executive gifts

    That is a very strong point. Some people blame the system that they have rather than working their way around it. I guess it is much easier to do that than finding ways to solve or improve.

  • Pingback: This Week in Canadian Startups - Mark Evans TechMark Evans Tech

  • http://www.addvalue.com.au/ Logo Items

    It’s just timely that I have read this. I am about to use Lean and I am glad I didn’t use it right away. All along I have thought it would be helpful, when it can actually be a start of a headache!

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    I think you’re missing the point. Lean isn’t to blame for analysis paralysis, although it’s an easy scapegoat. People assume a framework is a guarantee to success; when they don’t succeed “auto-magically” they blame the framework, which is a mistake.

  • http://www.gevezechat.net/ Sohbet

    Thanks you very nice

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

My bio »

or

Follow me on Twitter

Get updates and special content
When I publish new content, get it directly in your inbox. Subscribers will get special stuff as well not available on the blog (but I promise it will be infrequent + high quality.)
Get the Lean Analytics Book!
Awesome Jobs
Check out the job opportunities at my portfolio companies.
Startup & Investor Resources
Find Stuff
My Photos