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How Playing Lean conveys Lean Startup Methodology

In this blog post you can read about the eleven key concepts in Playing Lean that relates to the Lean Startup and how the board game conveys those concepts through the gaming experience. These are also used to measure the Lean Startup Methodology (LSM) learning outcome of the game.

The Lean Startup Methodology as a whole is represented throughout the game in various elements, such as the Experiment Cards, the choices one takes each round, realizing the value of experimenting on customer demands and making a customer sale based on building a product meeting those demands, and experiencing the need to alter the product according to increasing and varied customer demands.

The aspect of the Build - Measure - Learn cycle is addressed by the players drawing an Experiment Card is building an experiment, looking at the face of the Customer Tile is measuring and drawing conclusions about the market on the Innovation Accounting sheet is learning.

The concept of pivoting is explicitly mentioned in several Experiment Cards. Some players will also have experienced having to change their product a lot during the game. This is a pivot.

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is represented on many of the Experiment Cards. It is also implicit in the game mechanics, since players build a small product to hit the market in the beginning. This product must invariably grow towards the end of the game, and is no longer “minimal”. Furthermore, MVP interviews are also covered in the Experiment Cards.


Innovation Accounting is represented directly by the tear sheets that players note customer preferences on. Like in real life, if you do this job poorly, then the outcome will be bad.

The concept of Fast Iteration is covered by the increasing building cost and the remove function on the Company Board’s product building section, rewarding teams that recognize the importance of removing product features due to increasing costs.

Playing Lean also addresses the aspect of Technical Debt. The price of building a new feature increases (exponentially) with the complexity (number of features) of the product. Keeping the product “Lean” without excess features is a good strategy.

“Get out of the building” is a lesson in the game. Players can’t plan their products in isolation and guess who to sale to, they must “get out of the building” and do experiments with customers. In the game they draw cards to do experiments and read the example on the card and then how many customer tiles they can flip in order to get customer information.

The concepts of Problem/solution and Product/market fit is explicitly enforced in the game, since you cannot move to the next level (yellow, orange, red) without getting a customer on the previous (a ‘fit’).

Scalability and timing is represented by the game board and in building the product on the Company Board. Players should note that the experiments are very different in the red scaling phase than in the green and yellow phases. Game strategy will also be more focused on building the right product quickly, be the first to “cross the chasm”, and Avoid Premature Scaling.

Additionally to these concepts, Ash Maurya’s four steps are covered by the Experiment Cards, whereas each step towards the center, illustrated by the colors on the Customer Tiles, indicates those steps. Green is Business Modeling, yellow is Problem/Solution Fit, orange is Product/Market Fit and red is Scale. Besides playing the game and encountering the concepts embedded, players are also encouraged to reflect on the Lean Startup method as a mindset and how it might apply to their own organizations or ideas they might have for the future.

Playing Lean reflects Lean Startup Methodology in a thorough way, and it takes the practical perspective of LSM from Ash Maurya and mixes it with the more philosophical Leam Startup perspective of Eric Ries. The outcome is a board game that can be used to get a grasp of core concepts and the mindset of LSM without risking anything. However, the players do not actually work with problems or ideas of their own so there is no practical application of LSM to really get it under ones skin.

The above mentioned eleven concepts in bold are the key concepts we have identified from the LSM literature being central to understanding the method. How the concepts emerge in game-play has been described to showcase that it is possible to embed them in a game.

Not convinced yet? See how Storebrand, a leading player in the Nordic market for long-term savings and insurance experienced a session with Playing Lean.

See here for additional player reviews, media coverage and links to where the Founders talk about Playing Lean.

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  • Hi Eja.

    Thanks for reaching out to us. We are aware that we need to update the rulebook to make it more easy to understand the rules. While we are doing that, I hope that this brand new gameplay video could help you:

    If you have additional questions feel fee to give us a pling at our Twitter account @playinglean and we will do our best to help you.

    Best regards,

    Tore Rasmussen
    Co-creator, Playing Lean

    Tore Rasmussen
  • Having purchased this game and attempting to start, found that the rules are seriously lacking. There appears to be no start point described.
    Can someone from Playing Lean please describe how this game is supposed to begin?
    The comment from Zardon here: describes my teams experience.
    Please provide further information.


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