LEAN STORYBOARDING: Successfully Facilitate Lean Improvement and Innovation Projects

(WARNING: This is a concept paper on the emerging paradigm of Lean Storyboarding. Some readers may find this article unusually long. But …)


“The Lean Startup isn’t just about how to create a more successful entrepreneurial business; it’s about what we can learn from those businesses to improve virtually everything we do. I imagine Lean Startup principles applied to government programs, to health care, and to solving the world’s greatest problems. It’s ultimately an answer to the question How can we learn more quickly what works and discard what doesn’t?” Tim O’Reilly

“The classic Lean Startup Method is the tip of the iceberg of Lean Storyboarding.” Rod King


Recently, I read what may be the best book to date on tactically applying Lean Storyboarding to risky projects and decision-making in organizations. The book is “The Innovator’s Method: Bringing the Lean Start-up Into Your Organization” by Nathan Furr & Jeff Dyer. Lean Storyboarding focuses on answering the Lean Storyboarding Question: How to rapidly discover and solve a Big Urgent Market Problem (BUMP)? Lean Storyboarding is synonymous with Lean Startup Problem Solving as well as Lean System Problem Solving.

For those, who are not familiar with Lean Storyboarding, one could use the formal definition below, which I developed based on Eric Ries’s seminal book, “The Lean Startup.”

Lean Storyboarding refers to a tightly integrated set of tools for rapid lean improvement and innovation that lead to radically successful business models (under conditions of extreme uncertainty).

Small, medium, and large businesses are eager to adopt Lean Storyboarding as it promises two things. The first is achievement of the objective of “rapid lean improvement and innovation” which is regarded (a la Joseph Schumpeter’s “Creative destruction” as well as John Boyd’s “OODA Loop”) as a prerequisite for business model survival and growth especially in a hypercompetitive environment. The second reason is rapidly achieving the highly desirable outcome of radically successful business models that are developed under conditions of extreme uncertainty. In other words, Lean Storyboarding promises to solve, in one swoop, the Big Urgent Market Problem (BUMP) of slow customer problem solving, business decision-making, and experimentation (execution) as well as wasteful innovation.

Given the attractive value proposition of Lean Storyboarding, more and more large organizations want to act like “Lean Startups” while adopting Lean Storyboarding. However, unlike in the Six Sigma methodology, there is currently no “standard” framework, process, template, or “operating manual” for Lean Storyboarding, that is, rapid application of the Lean Startup method to improvement and innovation projects. Lean Storyboarding is a nascent field.

At the moment, Lean Startup projects are mainly guided by Lean Startup principles and ideas as outlined in Ries’s book, “The Lean Startup,” nothwithstanding a lot of disparate templates and “canvases” as well as acronyms and buzzwords: MVP; GOOB; Build-Measure-Learn Loop; Hypothesis; Experiment; Validated Learning; Problem-Solution Fit; Product-Market Fit; Pivot. The result is a lot of noise as well as Slow Lean Startup Problem Solving (LSPS) which defeats the primary purpose and essence of a Lean Startup.

In their book, “The Innovator’s Method,” Furr and Dyer report that they studied hundreds of companies to distill a common framework and language that startups use to successfully bring risky ideas and Lean Startup projects to market. Furr and Dyer provide four steps that summarize a holistic problem-solving framework for facilitating systematic application of Lean Storyboarding in organizations. However, Furr and Dyer’s emphasis is on lean innovation rather than lean improvement. The “Innovator’s Method” is what Furr and Dyer call their iterative framework for Lean Storyboarding.

Furr and Dyer’s four-step Innovator’s Method of “Insight-Problem-Solution-Business Model (IPSB)” is a synthesis of approaches that world-class innovators use to rapidly and successfully bring innovative ideas, products, and services to market especially under conditions of great uncertainty. In particular, Furr and Dyer synthesize ideas from the following approaches that minimize risks and uncertainties in startup projects: Creativity Techniques; Open Innovation; Design Thinking; Agile Development; Lean Startup; Business Modeling.

From their study, Furr and Dyer conclude that three to five years after adopting elements of Lean Storyboarding or what they refer to as the Innovator’s Method, the Innovation Premium (IP) of companies increased, on the average, over 57%. In short, Lean Storyboarding or the Innovator’s Method works while providing significant benefits to users. But, how can an organization instantly learn and apply to projects the approach of Lean Storyboarding such as in the Innovator’s Method?

Furr and Dyer give a 1-page summary of the Innovator’s Method in their book; each of the four steps of the Innovator’s Method has a checklist of key activities (tasks), tools, test, and outcomes (targets). However, the “1-Page Innovator’s Method” does not present a visual template or worksheet for organizing, documenting, and managing ideas in a Lean Innovation project. In short, the 1-Page Innovator’s Method does not offer a graphic organizer for discovering and solving problems in Lean Innovation projects. Consequently, there may be significant delay between understanding and applying the 1-Page Innovator’s Method to real-life projects. It’s important to note that the numerous case studies in the Innovator’s Method book cannot easily be documented, simulated, shared, and updated using the given 1-page tabular description of the Innovator’s Method. Absence of an easy-to-use problem-solving worksheet or 1-page graphic organizer therefore slows down learning as well as application of the Innovator’s Method to Lean Innovation projects.

For over 15 years, I’ve been working on developing a 1-page template that can be used for Human-centered & Universal Problem Solving (HUPS). My desire to develop such a template comes from the insight that humans essentially use the same problem-solving template to organize and manage ideas for problem discovery and solving in any domain. In more concrete terms, HUPS involves a visual template that contains 5 interconnected spaces: Problem Space; Method Space; Solution Space; Implementation Space; Creative Lifespace (Environment). These 5 spaces can be used to comprehensively describe and apply Lean Storyboarding for pre-feasibility, feasibility, and final studies of a project. The HUPS model is documented as a “Versatile Map” in the book, “Research Methods for Postgraduates” which is edited by Dr. Tony Greenfield.

In bringing the HUPS model to the business community, the Versatile Map has undergone several iterations in its visual format. To date, the most audience appealing formats of the Versatile Map are the 1-Page Lean Strategy and Innovator’s Iceberg.These latter forms of the HUPS model can respectively be used as tactical and strategic tools for Lean Storyboarding. The 1-Page Lean Strategy and Innovator's Iceberg can be described as visual problem-solving organizers especially for rapidly discovering and solving problems in Lean Improvement and Innovation (LII) projects. It’s important to note that checklists of principles and tools from one or more problem-solving (innovation) methodologies can be presented on the worksheet of the 1-Page Lean Strategy tool. Even Toyota’s A3 problem-solving worksheet can be summarized using the 1-Page Lean Strategy template. Contained in a Slideshare deck (see http://www.slideshare.net/RodKing/lean-startup-storyboarding-succes...) is a visual summary of the Innovator’s Method using 1-Page Lean Strategy.

A simpler format of the template of 1-Page Lean Strategy with only 4 Lean Strategy Questions is shown below.

The above 1-Page Lean Strategy template facilitates the discovery of "Problem-Solution Fit." Thus, 1-Page Lean Strategy is useful for a Pre-feasibility Project that focuses on answering the question: Is a (discovered/given/assumed) problem worth solving? Rapidly answering this question - especially using minimum viable experiments to validate Job-To-Get-Done, Customer, Problem, and Solution-Hypotheses - can save a Lean Storyboarder enormous time, money, and energy in the event of trying to solve "financially unworthy" problems. A Lean Storyboarder does not have to do extensive market research or write a voluminous business/project plan to answer the question about Problem-Solution Fitness.

Also, the 1-Page Lean Strategy template can be used to daily discover and solve problems for Lean Improvement and Innovation projects in small, medium, and large organizations. Many case studies from Furr and Dyer’s “The Innovation Method” have been documented using 1-Page Lean Strategy; see the example of Rent The Runway below.

The usability of 1-Page Lean Strategy is extensively being tested; if you are interested in taking part in further user-testing as well as providing examples of use of the 1-Page Lean Strategy, do let me know through LinkedIn mail or directly (my email address is rodkuhnhking@gmail.com).

While 1-Page Lean Strategy focuses on tactical Lean Storyboarding, the Innovator’s Iceberg focuses on strategic Lean Storyboarding. The Innovation Iceberg, which requires more resources to understand and use than the 1-Page Lean Strategy, focuses on validating or rejecting hypotheses about Product-Market Fit. The key question to be addressed in a Feasibility Project using the Innovator's Iceberg is: Is the (discovered/given/assumed) business model engine profitable, scalable, and sustainable? Industry Competition and the Business Model Environment have to be seriously considered when answering the question about Product-Market Fitness. In today's fast changing environment, every business or organization must continuously explore questions about Problem-Solution Fitness as well as Product-Market Fitness.

Business model visualization and innovation as well as the integration of disparate business ideas, principles, and tools are best carried out using the Innovator’s (Business Model) Iceberg. From my perspective, the 1-Page Lean Strategy and Innovator’s Iceberg constitute a “standard toolkit” for Lean Storyboarding in many and varied domains. Shown below is a basic template of the Innovator’s Iceberg.

Entrepreneurs, startups, and established businesses can use the 1-Page Lean Strategy and Innovator’s Iceberg to facilitate discussion on lean improvement and innovation projects while seamlessly integrating many and varied ideas, principles, and tools of Strategic Management.

No one can deny that small, medium, and large organizations are living in a world of unprecedented Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA)Linear or “waterfalls” tools such as the traditionally bulky business plan and project plan are too rigid and slow for improvement and innovation projects in today’s fast moving and unpredictable world of hypercompetition. Use of rigid linear tools have accounted for the high failure rate in the launch of innovative products, services, and business models. It’s time to change from the "dinosaurs" that are holding back entrepreneurs. And Lean Storyboarding (LS) is heralding this wave of massive change.

In my view, the tsunami of Lean Storyboarding is unstoppable. Big corporations such as General Electric, Toyota, and Intuit are enthusiastically adopting and using Lean Storyboarding. More corporations are following the lead of these early adopters of Lean Storyboarding. The ultimate goal of such corporations may be to have all their knowledge workers become highly proficient Lean Storyboarders. Such an organization is referred to as a “Lean Strategy Organization.”

Among entrepreneurs and startups, adoption of principles, ideas, and tools of Lean Storyboarding is growing at an exponential rate. Some people are referring to the paradigm shift from Waterfall Planning to Lean Storyboarding as the “Lean Startup Revolution.” Others call it the “Entrepreneurial Revolution.” Either way, it’s just a question of time before organizations, in which Lean Storyboarding is embedded in their DNA, that is, Lean Strategy Organizations “eat up” organizations that are practicing Waterfall, Rigid, or “Fat” Planning and Problem Solving.

So, we do have a choice in business and life: eat or be eaten? Which do you prefer?


PS: You can freely download a full slide deck on Lean Storyboarding from here.

Note: Dr. Rod King offers coaching and consulting services on Lean Storyboarding and in particular, Lean Improvement and Lean Innovation. Dr. King is also available for delivering inspiring talks and seminars on Lean Storyboarding to leaders, managers, and employees of organizations especially existing and prospective practitioners of lean improvement, lean innovation, and 1-Page Lean Startup methodology. For more information, contact Dr Rod King (rodkuhnhking@gmail.com & 1-559-2486230).

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