How the Lean Startup is transforming GE

The Lean Startup started as smarter way for startups to build product. Today, the Lean Startup ideas transforms how people think, work and operate together inside organization. The perfect example of such transformation is happening at GE (General Electric).

Janice Semper who is leading an effort to drive a cultural transformation to make GE a simpler, faster and more customer-centric organization shared that story on stage at the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco last November.

GE recognized that in a rapidly changing world and a companies that strive have the ability to learn, react and adapt faster. In a quest to achieve this, GE tried to re-organise by removing some of the middle management functions. But this had no impact on their ability to react faster.

Interested by the Lean Startup concept, they asked Eric Ries to come-in for a week and work with a few team to show this approach to build new products. After a week of work, the team feedback was very positive. They felt more productive, that they achieved more, collaborated more and had more fun.

But that’s when the teams went back into the organisation problems started. The rest of the organisation didn’t understand how those teams operated. “It as basically like an organ reject.” said Janice. Although the benefits of working in this new way were clear. “So, we took the tools of the Lean Startup and made FastWork”. FastWorks is GE version of the Lean Startup. Renaming it allow GE to make the ideas their own.

To deploy FastWorks, GE trained coaches to the Lean Startup tools and to change management technics. Janice explains GE started using FastWork on projects in its Heath Care division, because it was the most regulated. “If we can make it work in highly regulated industry then we can make it anywhere.”. And it worked. The teams using FastWork managed to work with regulation to find out what was acceptable or not and define a safe framework to run experiments.

Rolling out FastWork to the other divisions helped get new leads and bigger orders, leading to better outcomes. Even in the aviation division where the command book is already full for the next 10 years. People in the company started to apply FastWorks on everything, for instance for before making a powerpoint presentation, they would ask: who is it for? what is the expected outcome? how can I measure it?

Focusing on being fast, agile and customer centric, slowly transformed GE.

As more and more project used FastWorks, the discrepancy between this new way of working and the historical style of leadership became a problem. GE leadership style was about command and control (Six Sigma), prescribing what should be done and valuing perfection.

Realising the problem caused by this discrepancy, GE promoted a new style of leadership and shifting from:

command and control – we tell, you do, we check
⤷ empowerment – your lead, we help you

prescription – we know what needs to be done
⤷ discovery – let’s find out what should be done

measuring activities – this what you did today
⤷ measuring impact – this is the impact your activity had

⤷ iterations – make in imperfect and then improve it

This transformation pushed GE to question the company core value. This lead to the creation of 5 GE Beliefs, explains Janice. As you can see they are strongly inspired by the Lean Startup principles.


GE Beliefs:
1. Customers Determine Our Success
2. Stay Lean to Go Fast
3. Learn and Adapt to Win
4. Empower and Inspire Each Other
5. Deliver Results in an Uncertain World

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