What’s a Lean Business Plan?

Lean planning is simple, efficient business planning that starts with a lean business plan and includes regular review and revisions.

Why Lean?

The classic PDCA cycle

Why lean? Because lean means strong with muscle but no fat. Lean means useful. No frills. You may have heard of the lean startup or lean manufacturing. It’s a set of ideas that started about 70 years ago, revolving around PDCA: plan-do-check-adjust. The idea came up first related to the auto manufacturer Toyota, as lean manufacturing; that goes back 70 years. It was also called “the Toyota way.” It adopted later by a collection of experts and authors, most notably Eric Ries and Steve Blank with their work on The Lean Startup. It’s a process of continuing improvement in steps, or cycles, each one involving plan, action, checking results, and revising the plan to start again.

Lean and Business Planning

That term lean, and the idea of continuous process, applies perfectly to business planning. It’s a shame that so many people think of a business plan as a document, the formal business plan; but good planning is a streamlined simple plan in a process that could be called PDCA, which I prefer to call PRRR: plan-run-review-revise.

  • The lean business plan includes strategy, tactics, review schedule, milestones, assumptions, sales forecast, expense budget, and cash flow management.
  • Lean business planning is a process, not just a single plan. It’s the plan plus the regular review and revisions. It’s never done. Every latest version will need revision with a few weeks.
  • It’s not a formal business plan document. However, when (and if) you need a traditional business plan document, add summaries, descriptions and explanations as needed to fill the specific business need. You might even make them part of your pitch deck or leave them in appendices.

Not a Formal Document

In lean planning, a business plan isn’t a long boring formal document, daunting to do, required for some business plan event. It’s not a document, it’s a plan. It’s what’s going to happen, when, and who’s responsible. And how much money out, how much in.

It’s short, simple, streamlined, just big enough to steer the business. Just big enough to meet the business need. It’s about results. It’s about managing a business. Accountability. Metrics. Priorities. It starts simple and grows organically.

3 thoughts on “What’s a Lean Business Plan?

  1. Nicol Bradberry

    I am very interested in the lean planning process. It is a very interesting topic. I am a business advisor in which I facilitate various business workshops. I also write business plans. This concept is very beneficial for many small business owners especially for start – ups. A business plan is a working document I love the PRRR concept. Looking forward to learn more.


    Nicol Bradberry


Leave a Comment Cancel reply