Starting Lean

Putting the right team together is critical for a start-up. For CMMOK we already have designers and developers to create the software but we also need expertise from the third sector, or volunteer sector if we are going to be credible in this area.

During November we recruited Lois Muddiman and Ruth Stavris who between them have over 20 years experience of working in the third sector, setting up social enterprises, managing charities and volunteers and working as volunteers themselves. Now, they’re “intrepreneurs” – entrepreneurs operating inside an established company, in this case, Oxford Computer Consultants.

Oxford Computer Consultants (OCC) are a software development company and IT consultancy with clients across public and private sectors. Their very successful local government products for managing contracts and financial assessments, individual budgets and integrated online solution for providers, are used at more than 55 local authority sites. OCC has been established for over 25 years and is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.

Lean Startup

CMMOK will operate within OCC as a start-up or as Eric Ries terms them, “a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty” and we will be following the principles of The Lean Startup as explained in the book of the same title by Eric Ries.

Business Model Canvas

With the new team in place we began work developing a business model canvas. The Business Model Canvas is tool that helps visualise the way in which a business could operate. Its real value is in bringing clarity and a common vocabulary to the whole team working on the project. The business model isn’t just for managers and when everyone understands how the business can/will operate, everyone can make more informed and effective choices.

The canvas itself is a one-page grid showing a business’ value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. We developed our canvas in PowerPoint, which allowed the team to add ideas on virtual post-it notes, as they arose in (and between) discussions.

Business Model Canvas image


A startup’s purpose is to turn uncertainty into certainty and create a sustainable and proven business. At the beginning uncertainty takes the form of all the assumptions we have made in imagining how the business will work, as shown on our canvas.

Using the business model canvas we identified all the assumptions we are making. For example, we’re assuming that people will trust volunteers met on-line and that people will be more inclined to volunteer their own time if their relatives are benefitting from someone else’s time in return. But in order to find out if our assumptions are correct, we need to test and validate them. We’ll begin do this by conducting interviews with people who might use our service.

A further assumption is that relevant charities will want to work with us. We will begin to validate this assumption by setting up meetings with Age UK, Royal Voluntary Service and local Oxfordshire schemes such as Volunteer Link Up.

What do we work on first?

We took all our assumptions and placed them on a scatter chart showing levels of Certainty and Impact. This exercise enabled us to quickly identify the 8 key assumptions about which we are very uncertain and which would have a high impact upon the project if we are incorrect. In the chart below the 8 key assumptions are in the top left box.

Assumptions chart

To test our assumptions initially, we will speak to potential users and customers to find out what they need. We can then begin to create a prototype to test that we have understood their needs correctly. These prototypes will then form the basis for the first version of the product, the Minimum Viable Product or MVP.

We’ll ask users and potential partners to test the MVP and we’ll measure their responses to the product. How many people used this feature? How many people told their friends about it? Using their feedback we’ll improve the product before we release our second version and so on.

Canvas image 3

This build – measure – learn feedback loop is central to the Lean Startup methodology and allows us to adapt our plans incrementally, quickly, bit by bit, rather than waste time heading off in the wrong direction and only finding out months later that people don’t want what we’ve created.

A startup’s biggest enemy is waste, most commonly time and money spent pursuing something that doesn’t turn out to be valuable. Building MVPs and keeping the feedback loop fast are vital to reducing the risk of that waste.

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