Lean Thinking Provides a Philosophical Foundation for Scaling Agile

Little ideas add up

Lean thinking is important for scaling agile in several ways:

  1. Lean provides an explanation for why many of the agile practices work.  For example, Agile Modeling’s practices of light weight, initial requirements envisioning followed by iteration modeling and just-in-time (JIT) model storming work because they defer commitment to the last most responsible moment.  These practices also help to eliminate waste because you’re only modeling what needs to be built at the point in time that it needs to be built.
  2. Lean offers insight into strategies for improving your software process.  Lean principles such as optimizing the whole and delivering quickly motivate you to look beyond your existing specialized processes to explore how everything fits together and to streamline it.  Identifying and understanding the sources of waste in your IT processes can motivate you to improve the way that you work and thereby eliminate the waste.  The lean principle of building quality in
  3. Lean thinking provides a philosophical foundation for scaling agile approaches.  No methodology, process, procedure, or framework is ever complete.  Nor can they be because you can always capture more detail for a wider range of situations.  Because of this incompleteness you need a collection of higher-level principles or philosophies to guide people when their process/procedure/… proves to be incomplete for the situation that they face.  Lean thinking has proven to be a very good source of such philosophies, as do other sources (Steven Covey’s principles come to mind, as does the work of Peter Senge).
  4. Lean provides techniques for identifying waste.  Value stream mapping, a technique common within the lean community whereby you model a process and then identify how much time is spent on value-added work versus wait time, helps calculate overall time efficiency of what you’re doing.  Value stream maps are a straightforward way to illuminate your IT processes, providing insight into where significant problems exist.  I’ve created value stream maps with several customers around the world where we analyzed their existing processes which some of their more traditional staff believed worked well only to discover they had efficiency ratings of 20-30%.  You can’t fix problems that you are blind to.

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