Lean software development takes ideas from lean manufacturing and applies them to the software development lifecycle. The intention is to rapidly deliver software that meets organizations’ needs.
Lean aims to improve the effectiveness of the software development process through a focus on value, flow and teams.
It is allied to both design thinking and agile methodologies.
What is it?
Lean — in the context of software development — is a method for making the software lifecycle more effective. It has its roots in lean manufacturing, which was pioneered at Toyota. Lean is often regarded as complementary to Agile methodologies.
One common feature of lean software development is the use of Kanban boards to track work at various stages within a project. This is often allied to work in progress (WIP) limits, which are used to force development teams to prioritize the most important deliverables. Lean software development will often produce a minimal viable product — a version with the least features needed to be usable; feedback on the MVP is then used to guide future development.
Many of the principles of lean software development were codified by Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck in the 2003 book Lean Software Development.
What’s in for you?
Lean can shorten your time to market — especially for digital products — as it focuses on making the software development process more effective. With its focus on feedback at all stages, Lean can help keep projects on track, and ensure your development teams produce things that are valuable to the business.
What are the trade offs?
Lean requires a substantial change in mindset. That’s true at both the team level and the board level.
Lean advocates empowering teams to be self directing. Those closest to the issues are trusted to come up with solutions. This is a sea-change for many managers and not all cope well.
At the board level, Lean means focusing on outcomes not outputs. So for instance, customer value should replace return on investment (ROI) as the driver. ROI is internal, customer value is external. ROI is extremely important; but it is a constraint, not an objective. Again, that change in mindset can be difficult for many at board level — but unless they’re onboard, Lean initiatives will struggle to gain traction.
How is it being used?
Many of today’s most innovative enterprises such as Dominos, IAG, and Qantas Airways have embraced Lean.
Famously, Lean has inspired a generation — the so-called Lean Startup movement, that aimed to shorten product development cycles and rapidly prove the viability of a nascent business model. This approach was followed by tech companies such as Dropbox and Intuit and has also won favor with some government departments across the world.
You can see how IAG implemented Lean principles to super-charge its digital strategy so that it could drive more sales to customers and lower the costs for customers.