Becoming Lean: The Why, What, and How


the one from the top that is attempting to make a cohesive flow and the one from the bottom where the actual work takes place? Lean science provides a basis for aligning both global and local efforts because both should be looking to shorten cycle time in whatever they do.

Current management places a lot of emphasis on ensuring that people are working productively. Lean management would have management shift from trying to motivate people to providing them with the proper work environment in which to get their work done. “Work environment,” means more than simply the physical environment they work in. It includes the way they integrate with others doing development. Management’s role shifts to a larger view: helping to create an organizational structure in which the people doing the work can best function. Instead of managing by telling people what to do, managers now assist teams in getting their work done by providing the proper environment for them to do so and coaching as required.

In large organizations, managers can best assist teams by helping coordinate their work so that they are not over-burdened. Overloading teams is one of the primary causes of serious delay. The Lean manager’s role is both to focus on how work flows and in coaching teams to attend to avoid delays. Management provides the high view of the organization needed while providing assistance to work done at the team level.

In Figure 2, management’s role could be considered to be getting proper flow of work from the left to the right. This would entail having the right number of things being worked on at each step of the process. Imagine how having the right number of items hitting the team for them to pull from will help their productivity. A secondary effect will be that product owners will be more available to the teams as well. A common challenge in software development organizations is the lack of product knowledge which slows the teams down. It is ironic that the very people who can help them (e.g., product owners) are spending time creating more stories than are necessary. By limiting how much work can be upstream of the team pulling their work, the organization is also simultaneously making these people needed by the development teams more available to them.

Lean Learning
Development systems are very complex. Cause and effect are very difficult to determine. Many events are unpredictable. And since people are involved, events can even be irrational at times. This means we have to learn quickly and challenge our assumptions. Lean’s underlying systems thinking approach enables a three step approach for learning. The first is to see where you are. Then, look to see where you want to be. Finally, take steps to get there. This learning approach specifies to take very small steps. If your steps are too large, many things will happen from when you start until you see results. This will make it difficult to see the results of your actions. Kanban methods follow this by using explicit policies (e.g., limitations on work in progress at each step of your process). You can readily see the results of these actions if you have your work reflected in a value stream map or Kanban board.

Putting it Together
Becoming Lean is truly a journey and not a destination. It involves creating visibility where you are so you can see what you need to do 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

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