Becoming Lean – The Why, What and How

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to get to where you want to go. You strive to improve your work by removing delays between the steps of the work. One method of doing this is setting work in progress (WIP) limits so you do not exceed the capacity of your organization at any step. By eliminating delays, you lower induced work which raises true productivity and quality, while lowering cost. Because we are taking a scientific process here, all the roles of the organization can see if our actions are helping or hurting. Overall cycle time is our measure of efficiency of the organization. Local changes can be made with confidence of overall improvement if they lower our overall time. The goal is continuous improvement by improving how we work to get better products for our customers. We learn in small steps so we can understand the results of our actions. Visibility is not just limited to how our work is flowing but includes the rules we use for making decisions. This enables managers to assist development teams since they can work to have the proper organizational structure they need as well as coach the teams when they need it.

Lean Software Development is a combination of Lean science, Lean management and Lean learning. It provides an overall approach that helps different roles in the organization to see how progress is being made, both in the products being built and in the way they are being built By creating visibility and a common language they help create a better, more productive team. 

[1] I’ll be making several assertions in the article. An assertion is a statement where I am promising to provide evidence to validate it. Except in this case, I’m suggesting you should provide the evidence by looking into your own experience. The impacts of delay in software development are somewhat universal – I do believe if you look closely you’ll find evidence for what I am saying. If not, please ping me on the leanagile Yahoo user group .
[2] Overbuilding frameworks is typically caused by lack of knowledge of how to do proper emergent design. The interested reader is referred to Scott Bain’s Jolt Award winning book, Emergent Design: The Evolutionary Nature of Professional Software Development .
[3] The term MMF (minimal marketable feature) was coined in Software by Numbers: Low-Risk, High-Return Development by Mark Denne and Jane Cleland-Huang. It is essentially the smallest piece of value that can be delivered that is worth the transaction cost borne by both the development company and the customer.
[4] Please don’t interpret this diagram as depicted a phase-gated approach. The reality is developers are represented early in the cycle as well and there is no intention that story definition is completed in the third box. Rather we mean just enough to get started building the software.
[5] This coordination is not usually done in real-time but rather by checking on a regular basis (e.g., weekly) to see if new work needs to be prepared. The regularity of this checking is called the cadence of the step.
[6] I highly recommend Mike Roth’s Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results . While based on Toyota (and therefore manufacturing) the learning process equally applies to knowledge work.
[7] Scrum boards can accomplish this but typically don’t as most Scrum teams do not explicitly state how they move work that takes place within a Sprint. Rather they limit their explicit policies to be how stories get on (Sprint ready) and off (done) the board.

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About the author

Alan Shalloway's picture Alan Shalloway

Alan Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With almost forty years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader, a popular speaker at prestigious conferences worldwide, a trainer, and a coach in the areas of lean software development, the lean-agile connection, Scrum, agile architecture, and using design patterns in agile environments. Alan is the primary author of Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design and Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility.

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