While Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, are considered the most innovative and effective methodologies in project development, it is useful to understand some of the variations of the Agile philosophy, such as Lean processes. The term Lean was first used in combination with manufacturing or production. Lean manufacturing was an operating model that was first used in 1988. However, lean manufacturing principles are derived from a method that the Toyota Motor Corporation used back in the early stages of its automobile production in the 1930s. In Toyota, the lean principles were used for two main purposes: to increase the quality of the produced vehicles and to reduce waste in the production process.
John Krafcik and James Womack defined the term in the early 1990s, recognizing the significant advantages of Lean in terms of a flexible workforce, easy-to-build product designs, and a high-performance supplier network. According to them, Lean is “a way to do more and more with less and less – less human effort, less equipment, less time, and less space – while coming closer and closer to providing customers exactly what they want.” (Lean Thinking, 1996).
7 lean Waste Types
The reduction of waste is one of the main pillars on which Lean principles are built. The waste is to be reduced as it raises the cost of the final product without adding any value to the product itself or the customer. Production efficiency can be significantly increased provided the waste elements are correctly identified and eliminated.
There are seven types of waste connected to the following categories:
Transportation – in the domain of transportation, waste can occur in unnecessary movements of materials between different locations
Inventory – storing excessive materials leads to waste
Motion – motions that happen between processes can be redundant. This includes movements of employees as well as machines
Waiting – if processes are not well connected, idle time is created between them. This time is considered a waste. Connecting processes prevent this waste of time.
Overprocessing – while striving to deliver the best, to do more than what customer wants and values is not desirable. Rather, it is a waste of time, resources, and energy.
Overproduction – while it is not desirable to do more than customer values, it is likewise not recommended to produce more than a customer needs qualitatively. Whatever results from overproduction or production at faster pace than expected, is a waste.
Defects – finally, any mistakes in production leading to low quality of the final products are a waste of time, and material and therefore they should be avoided. The way to eliminate waste is through the implementation of the Lean principles and a continuous effort to improve the philosophies and tools in use.
Main Principles of Lean
These are the five key Lean steps of manufacturing and production embodying the core principles of the Lean philosophy:
- Value – it is specified by the customer and communicated through dialogue. The information received is key for defining value.
- The value stream – describes the steps involved in making the product. This is done by mapping the value stream and then eliminating any step that does not create value.
- The flow consists of steps that remain after eliminating the redundant ones, ensuring that the process runs without delays or interruptions.
- Pull – it refers to the customer’s “pulling the product” in the time needed after the flow was improved and the product delivery has been
- Perfection– after the previous four principles are accomplished, the Lean principles are incorporated into the culture of the company to be followed by all the employees.
Kaizen, The Continuous Improvement
The Japanese word kaizen means improvement, and it is a belief that any great results stem from a set of small changes that are made one at a time. In a company, every employee has a responsibility to brainstorm about the change that could be beneficial. In some Japanese companies, the employees were required to give a list of up to five ideas for improvement monthly.
The Kaizen principle was incorporated into Toyota Lean philosophy in the 1950s, and it is believed to be one of the key reasons behind Toyota’s worldwide success. Kaizen has been proven to decrease costs and, at the same time, increase profits.
Lean for Software Development
The core principles of Lean manufacturing were adapted to software development in 2003 by Mary and Tom Poppendieck. Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. The book popularized traditional Lean principles while adding supplemental tools customized to software development. This includes modifying the list of wastes and restating the main principles. In the case of the waste types, they include phenomena directly connected to the workforce, such as psychological distress, knowledge loss, and ineffective communication. Value stream mapping is used to identify the waste in a similar way it was applied to manufacturing.
As far as the Lean principles are concerned, they are outlined in these seven points:
- Decide as late as possible
- Deliver as fast as possible
Since these principles resemble the core tenets of the Agile Manifesto, the Lean software development methods have been incorporated into the Agile movement. Explore the Certified Project Management Diploma to learn more about Lean and how to utilise them in project development.
- Poppendieck, Mary and Tom. (2003). “Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit“
- Womack, James et al. (1991). „The Machine that Changed the World“.