Lean Software Development is one of the methodologies in Agile that is gaining traction in the industry. Originally, it started when Toyota adopted in the mid-90s the lean thinking concept as a way of reducing risk within projects. Here, the focus of the approach is to reduce waste, start new work only when necessary, reduce process bottlenecks and work only on things that will add value to the project.
Further, when Mary and Tom Poppendieck in 2003 wrote Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit, a book about adapting the Lean manufacturing principles to software development, the concept gained traction and became popular.
To start, Lean is a mindset or a set of core principles to reduce the project’s risks and deliver high quality products to the clients quickly.
In software development, Lean consists of seven (7) principles. These are:
- Eliminating waste
- Amplifying learning
- Deciding as late as possible
- Delivering as fast as possible
- Empowering the team
- Building quality in
- Seeing the whole
Let’s look at each one:
Eliminating Waste means having to decide to look at the process and makes sure that when putting everything together and integrating all the work product after, there is no unnecessary work product. An example of how a software production can be wasteful is when a developer is busy all the time, creating new features instead of the core features, the developer might run in to be developing unnecessary features that can either bog down the quality of the end product, cause issues with the main product or not end up in the final product. The software product manager will not want this for the team.
In Amplifying Learning, ideas are explored further by checking alternative solutions before proceeding with actions. For example, the development team creates the basic list of user requirements then already starts to develop the basic functionality. This is normal. However, before moving on to the next functionality, the team will stop and check for alternative approaches for that basic functionality. As a consequence of this, the product has its best chance of meeting then the client’s needs.
Also, running tests, and involving the client in the development process along the way is a great example of amplifying learning. This allows the the development team to learn through trial and error when they constantly presents a working software to the client.
In short, in amplifying learning, the team builds the right product through developing alternatives, continuous feedback and refinement.
DECIDING AS LATE AS POSSIBLE
Here, the core idea of deciding as late as possible is not about delaying anything for the project or buying time to complete the work product. It is about making decisions when the data and information you need is available.
For example, the client informed the team his requirements for building the product. The development team started working and is able to produce a prototype. After the initial feedback, the client says that the prototype is good to go. Instead of starting on further development, you work hard to ensure that there are many alternatives. Decisions made before you have enough information are bound to result in poor outcomes. Deciding late as possible ensures that you have the information you need first.
DELIVERING AS FAST AS POSSIBLE
This is intricately related to deciding as late as possible. In deciding as late as possible, the development team will explore possible approaches to further deliver the client needs. Because of this, the client now has an opportunity to see the prototype in three different approaches, and correct any wrong notions or decisions that could have further delayed the project. Once the client has made the right decision about the feature, or the product itself, it becomes easy for the team to build the right features and not wait for several months before changing a feature that is eventually unnecessary.
Imagine having the go signal from the client, the development team started further development on the features and after three months, the client wanted to see 2 new approaches? It will take another 3-6 months for the team to develop the features, wasting time and resources when these can be fixed initially during the prototype sessions.
This is the importance why lean software development operates in short rapid iterations.
The development team will build a basic product, make sure it works, and get it out the door and then worry about the next steps. By operating in short bursts, the product evolves at a rapid rate and allows client feedback at frequent intervals throughout the process.
EMPOWERING THE TEAM
As a software product manager, instead of micromanaging the development team, it is important to focus on your efforts to understand the client’s needs, remove the developer’s roadblocks and get out of the way. Lean software development encourages managers to listen to their developers. Software product managers are encouraged to let the developers imagine solutions that satisfy the client requirements, and to allow the the team to work how they want to work.
Trusting the team to make the right technical decisions not only does make the developers productive, but it also boosts their morale. A happy development team is a productive and an efficient team.
BUILDING INTEGRITY IN
In this principle, it aims to ensure that the development team are provided the best practices in software development to avoid errors.
Example would be using the test-driven development principle. Also, the team can apply the pair programming if it works for their development practices. Another practices would be well commented code, good documentation, refactoring code to be more efficient and automated testing. All these serves the purpose to make the product better.
SEEING THE WHOLE
What it means to see the whole is to see the software from more than just a lot of little components put together. What the end user should see is a cohesive product with components that flow into each other logically and smoothly. So in Lean software development, it’s important to think about the product as a whole before releasing it. This means that the developers must be constantly aware of how their piece of the puzzle fits into the big picture. Seeing the whole allows your development team to build a product as a cohesive well-designed whole.
Mary and Tom Poppendieck has additional principles that software development teams can apply:
- Use the scientific method when building a system
- As a software product manager, doing experiments to test ideas and collect data allows everyone on the team make informed decisions. ‘
- Encouraging leadership
- This means enabling initial individual developers to be courageous, innovative, inspirational and collaborative.
In summary, lean software development is a methodology that allows the team to create better software and have happier clients. It also encourages fast-paced iterative development, client interactions and the use of proven software development techniques to be successful.
University of Alberta (2020). Software Processes and Agile Practices. [Coursera Course] under the Software Product Management Specialization. Taken November 2020.
Patzelt, M. (2020). Agile Variations and Lean Software Development [Video]. Embedded under the course study videos under the Week 3 of the Software Processes and Agile Practices Coursera Course. Taken November 23, 2020.
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