Lean Principles For Social Projects

Principle 1: Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere

While teaching a programming class at the Santa Cruz Public Library, I met Maile. Every Thursday, she sets up free coffee, snacks, and print resources for the local homeless community. She spends an hour every week speaking to every individual in attendance to learn about their needs and relationship to the public library.

She’s speaking to her target customer to learn how the library can best serve their needs and provide resources to improve their standard of living. Week after week, she’s improved her Coffee Hour to give homeless locals access to volunteers, information, and as of last week — computers.

She’s an entrepreneur in disguise that’s using hard work and local resources to help those in need. Her goal is to provide sustainable, educational services for the community through collaboration between our local libraries, volunteers, and city officials. I’m excited to be part of her project and bring lean principles to help all of us gain the most from the experience.

Principle 2: Entrepreneurship Is Management

More on this Later

Principle 3: Validated Learning

Start-ups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business. Maile and I agree that regardless of the form of the Education Resource Center, the most important thing is that it provides ongoing value for years to come. Our goal is to build a sustainable program that provides the support and resources to help our local homeless community find work and navigate the path to go back to school. In order to learn about our customers’ needs, we’re testing the following minimum viable product:

MVP: At Coffee Hour, attendees have the opportunity to sign up for Computer Hour — an hour where they can use a library laptop with the help of a volunteer. When they sign up, they must have a specific goal in mind for the hour, such as applying for a job. We’ll use this to measure progress as we work towards our milestones.

Hypothesis: We’ll have 3–5 individuals take us up on the Computer Hour offer with 1–2 interested in pursuing higher education. Individuals will lack paperwork required for FAFSA. Individuals will lack HUD approval required to apply for FAFSA as a homeless individual. We will learn the extent to which we can support homeless individuals on their path to obtaining paperwork and ultimately enrolling in school.

Principle 4: Innovation Accounting

Measuring Progress:

  1. How many individuals sign up for Computer Hour over time?
  2. What percentage of them have educational or career goals?
  3. How long does it take to apply and receive necessary paperwork?
  4. What is the total cost for applications and forms?
  5. What is the best volunteer to customer ratio?


  1. Reserve space to host Resource Center from January — June 2017
  2. Coordinate workshops with local schools, career centers, and homeless services center.
  3. Successfully assist individuals in obtaining all paperwork for FAFSA.
  4. Successfully assist individuals in obtaining HUD approval.
  5. Successfully enroll individuals to Cabrillo College

Principle 5: Build — Measure — Learn

I’m grateful that being a Lean Ambassador pushed me to pursue and execute on this project. Maile and I will continue to build, measure, and learn using Lean Principles until we launch our Education Resource Center in January of 2017. It’s been a passion of mine since moving to Santa Cruz and it’s great to give back in a way that provides so many diverse learning opportunities.