Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems
Adapting Lean Thinking to Market Systems Development: Principles and Practices for Donors/Funders
The purpose of this paper is to provide funders and implementers of market systems development (MSD) projects with principles, practices, and structures that enables these projects to thrive. It is based on a book that has sold millions of copies worldwide, and a school of thought taught at institutions such as Harvard Business School and practiced in companies ranging from giants such as Toyota to the most successful tech start-ups in Silicon Valley. Published in 2011, Eric Ries wrote the Lean Startup as a remedy to the countless start-ups that create their own demises by getting started with the wrong goals, the wrong structures, and the wrong processes. He outlines an approach that enables the startup to navigate ambiguity and risk while using resources effectively. The conditions a MSD project faces are remarkably similar to those which a startup business faces; it needs structures and processes that are matched to the unpredictable, complex environment which it is attempting to influence. MSD projects can thus benefit from private-sector thought leadership on how start-ups can situate themselves for success.
This paper starts with an overview of lean thinking, a concept that derives from lean manufacturing which is widely accepted as the leading approach to modern manufacturing. It explains how Ries’s Lean Startup adapts these principles, and then it in turn adapts these ideas for market systems development. The following three sections provide an overview of Lean Startup concepts, applying them to the development sector as appropriate. The final section summarizes and makes suggestions on next steps for funders who wish to set MSD projects up for success using a lean approach. Overall, the paper builds a case for how the Lean Startup’s approach can enable MSD projects to work successfully in ambiguity and increase their potential for achieving robust and sustainable results, all while using donor resources more efficiently.