The following post was written by Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE. It’s highlights a new white paper that was written by Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, Director of Information Systems, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO & Chief Strategist, Spark Consulting LLC, regarding the lean startup methodology.

Have you ever had this experience?

Someone (staff, senior leadership, volunteer leadership) comes up with a great idea for a new program, product, or service. Maybe it was even specifically requested by members. Your team builds it, hopefully on time and on budget. The result has lots of features, works easily and the way it’s supposed to, and looks terrific to boot. And then it doesn’t perform up to expectations or create the return on investment you envisioned. 

What went wrong?

Maybe you identified the wrong audience. Or something you thought was a real problem or need for them turned out not to be. Or the solution you came up with wasn’t something that made sense to them at a price they were willing to pay. You may have been relying on anecdotal evidence or untested assumptions. Or maybe your project fell prey to the HIPO (the Highest Income/Influence Person’s Opinion). Or some combination of the above. 

In short, you invested your scarce resources working on the wrong thing, which also means they weren’t available for a project that might have had a better chance of success.

Is there a process that can help associations achieve our missions, stay in business, find problems worth solving, and make a real and meaningful difference for our members, achieving the sustainable, dynamic impact we seek?

There is: lean startup methodology, as most fully developed and articulated

by Eric Ries in his 2011 book The Lean Startup. In Innovate the Lean Way: Applying Lean Startup Methodology in the Association Environment, we describe the key concepts in lean startup methodology:

  • The Business Model Canvas
  • The Build-Measure-Learn Cycle
  • The Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  • The Pivot 

We also describe a variety of prototypes associations can create, tests you can run against those prototypes, and things you can measure along the way to proving or disproving your hypotheses about your audiences, their key problems, and your proposed solutions to help ensure that you’re investing your resources in the right solutions to the right problems for the right audiences.

How does that work in real life? The whitepaper includes case studies of four associations that are at various points in the journey of learning to use lean startup methodology to innovate faster and more successfully and some specific advice for how your association can get started using this groundbreaking methodology to improve your own innovation efforts.

Download your free copy of Innovate the Lean Way: Applying Lean Startup Methodology in the Association Environment at