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Atari and Lean Startup

Last week, I came across a great article about Atari and how they started the video game revolution.  I found it very interesting how the article talks about Atari being the original lean startup.  The article points out how Atari used rapid prototyping.

The forerunner in the video game world used a disciplined approach to testing new products and ideas. It followed lean manufacturing principles applied to innovation (such as rapid hypothesis testing and validated learning about customers) and had a disciplined approach to product development.

What really struck me was Atari founder Nolan Bushnell’s ability to see a vision for new technology that was being developed.

Atari came to life in the time of mini-computers, but at $2,000 apiece, those systems were prohibitively expensive as a platform to market games. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell quickly realized this and knew he would have to invent a radically cheaper platform if he wanted to enter the market.

What I did notice was how Nolan had engineers go and see how the games were used and distributed.

Bushnell felt his engineers had to experience being in the shoes of both customers and distributors to experience their pains first-hand. Engineers were charged with running games in test locations, with P&L responsibilities, like real distributors. As a result, these engineers found problems and defects before customers or distributors and got a better sense of which games worked and which didn’t.

Atari also rotated its engineers onto rotation on the assembly line, so they could learn to design products for ease of manufacturability.

Sounds a lot like lean thinking to me.  I’m not saying Atari was a lean company, but they sure seemed to use a lot of the thinking in the early on stages of the company.

Did Atari fall because they got away from this thinking?  If so, why do companies get away from the principles that made them successful in the beginning?

I thought this was a very interesting article to share.