Let’s get lean!

Lean thinking originates from Japanese car manufacturing where they adopted Just-In-Time (JIT) techniques into their supply chain and assembly factories.  The disciplines applied here have also been successfully applied across many disciplines and have produced results that have increased efficiency.  When appropriately applied, lean thinking is a well-understood and well-tested platform upon which to build agile software development practices [Poppe10].

Lean Thinking

Figure 1: 5 steps to lean thinking

Womack [Woma03] defines lean as “doing more with less” by using “the least amount of effort, energy, equipment, time, facility space, materials and capital – while giving the customers exactly what they want”.  In the current era of efficiency drives Lean Thinking is a popular management technique to reduce costs and to spring clean processes.

There are various descriptions of the steps involved with Lean Thinking.  Womack [Woma03] et Poppendieck [Poppe10] each give there own names to these steps, but ultimately the descriptions given by lean.org are more concise and are displayed in Figure 1.

Identify Value

As in a shop the customer ultimately decides whether an item in a shop is value.  In organisations, the justification of what is value can be distorted by domain experts.  This adds complexity of no interest to the customer and can provide an incorrect judgement of value.

Map the Value Stream

After identifying exactly what the customer requires, a process of analysis is required to map out how this value is created and delivered to the customer (what people, tasks, resources etc are required to deliver the desired product to the customer).

Create Flow

After identifying the steps required to produce value, an exercise of making them flow is required.  The goal of this is to reduce the number of teams required to achieve this flow.  This reduces handoffs, task duplication and ultimately creates a lean producer where teams are multi-disciplined.  Womak identifies the benefits of a lean producer as “combining the advantages of craft and mass-production while avoiding the high cost associated with the former and rigidity of the later”.

Establish Pull

The principles of Lean Thinking are based around the customer.  The customer decides what they want, nobody else makes that decision.  If the customer wants one item, you deliver that item.  If the customer wants want item over another item, prioritising occurs at each step to ensure that this occurs.

Seek Perfection

Continuous improvement is key to any industry.  Organisations cannot become lazy in their search for perfection, it must ultimately be driven towards.  There is no end to the process of becoming more efficent.


[Poppe10]Poppendieck, M; “Principles of Lean Thinking”; Viewed at http://www.poppendieck.com/papers/LeanThinking.pdf on 17/11/2010

[Woma03] Womack, J.  T., Jones, D. T.; “Lean thinking: banish waste and create wealth in your corporation”;  Free Press 2003

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