The concept of lean is relatively new. However, you can observe a few elements of lean in businesses dating back centuries. Why? Because companies have to streamline their processes to fit the market and standard constantly. Therefore, it is imperative for businesses to cut costs and optimize processes to make maximum profits.
Arguably, there have been instances of rigorous optimization of processes before the industrial revolution. Some date back to the 1450s in Venice. Similar production processes allowed Venice to become one of the biggest textile producers in the 15th century. Additionally, it also helped Venice reduce processing time for shipbuilding. And even before that. This is because process efficiency thinking came about around the same time manufacturing was born. And like most process efficiency thinking, lean is a philosophy before it is anything else.
If you look up the history of lean, Ford and Toyoda are the names you will come across. History has credited them being the first people who helped form and implement the lean concept.
Ford called it flow production. He integrated interchangeable parts with standardized processes, creating a new form of a moving assembly line. It meant that he had special-purpose machines on a specific-product belt. The flow production has one limitation. And that was variety. Since all assembly lines were product-specific, customers could only add different features after production by outside suppliers.
Kiichiro Toyoda transitioned his father’s company from loom works to automobiles. And through this transition, he created the Toyota Motor Corporation. World War 2 forced the company to reduce costs and improve process efficiency. This was due to mounting competition, capital restrictions, and limited resources caused by the war. So, Toyoda developed the TPS (Toyota Production System). The Japanese inventory management system used by many grocery stores inspired Toyoda. The system employed visual cues for inventory management. It helped optimize the entire manufacturing line.
Why were Japanese companies better at lean?
Soon, Western automobile companies started employing the same practices to stay in business and termed the philosophy in its entirety as lean. With lean, western car companies could compete with the supply Japanese companies were delivering. However, western companies simplify the concept to relentless cost-cutting in the name of optimization. They did not have the holistic understanding as their Asian counterparts had. It caused increased employee turnover because of the stress of meeting manufacturing goals. Such price reduction tactics also lead to low-quality products and quality control issues. Since Japanese companies did not have the same problem, they continued to outperform western companies for many years.
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Principles of lean software management
The lean concept is a pretty self-explanatory term. Lean as an adjective means “efficient and with no wastage.” And this is what Toyoda was aiming for when he formulated the TPS (Toyota Production System). He factored in waste elimination, standardized processes, and design interchangeability into the framework. The TPS or lean is a framework you can use to develop guidelines specific to your product and manufacturing method.
But what can these lean principles mean for software? How can lean manufacturing translate to lean software management and development?
You can think of lean as a methodology within software development and management. LSD (lean software development) is a lean-based development concept for software. It aims to eliminate unnecessary elements, optimize the flow of work of the product and streamline delivery. It builds a product from a basic prototype by iteration it. Each iteration checks for functionality, use, need, and cost based on the present market.
There are 7-steps in lean software management and development. Since lean in software is a methodology, you can alter the framework to fit your development plan. Additionally, you can go back a few steps or repeat a step until satisfactory.
Here are the 7-steps in lean software management:
1. Waste elimination
You can think of waste as anything or an element that does not add value to the product. This can be unnecessary code, lengthy code that you can shorten, data duplication, delay in processes, etc. You should conduct this step after each iteration to simplify the product and only include the most crucial elements and functionalities.
2. Fast-tracked delivery
Software developers have to launch products and new features regularly and within short periods. Additionally, they have to gather and incorporate customer feedback and eliminate bugs. This means that developers have to work on iterations of the product and features to boost functionalities. It is a crucial step since many developers spend too much time developing complex and unnecessary features. Therefore, stick to what the customer wants.
3. Leaning oriented
Knowledge sharing is crucial in software teams. Since the entire product’s success hinges on the whole team, team members must impart knowledge gained. It encouraged open communication and optimized working conditions. Hence, promote data sharing to reduce information stagnation. You can achieve this through code reviews and regular review meetings.
4. High-quality control
Since the duration of each step is short in each iteration, quality control is imperative for optimizing the product. Each step and iteration should end with a review and quality check. Plus, quality control includes code efficiency as well. Shorten code when possible and eliminate code that adds no value.
5. Teamwork centric
Lean software management only works when the team is cohesive and works together. By empowering team members, you set up a collaborative team. The better collaboration the team has, the better they perform in short deadlines and increased workload. Additionally, you should give new team members ample time and guidance.
6. Delay deliverables
In non-lean projects, developers will program an application and get it out to the market as fast as they can. However, this method adds bugs, unwanted functionality, and elements that do not cohesively work with the product.
7. Overview of the system
Lean software management is used to optimize the entire development and management process, not just a few steps. Therefore, when you are applying lean principles, do so with the whole team and product in mind. The goal of lean is to remove elements that do not add value while making sure that the team has flexibility throughout the entire process. Lean is a holistic approach that does not work without respect and communication.
Why does lean work so well?
Since Toyota, there have been many iterations of lean such as TQM (total quality management), JIT (just in time), Six Sigma, etc. Each type of framework used different combinations of lean practices. Since lean is a philosophy, you can implement lean in varied industries and departments. Therefore, you can translate lean from manufacturing to business and software management.
The best part of learning is adapting the farmwork to suit your production needs. It is one of these productivity approaches that continuously gives results. Additionally, the resultant product of lean is clean, efficient, and market-based.
Due to the 7-step lean software management method, your product will eliminate code waste, improve inter-team communication, help boost productivity and streamline production. During development, many developers add features that are not required, write low-quality code for the sake of testing and clog the product with unnecessary code lines. All these affect the quality of the code and its functionality.
By eliminating wasteful code lines and focusing on the market, you can develop products that will work well in the present market. Additional review in step will help you identify errors before you add more to the product. Such early error detention will help you save troubleshooting time and make the next iteration smoother.
Additionally, with lean software management, you get shorter development time, optimized information communication, adaptability of objectives, and scheduling.
Because at the end of the day, you want to create a product that will sell. And high-quality, market-oriented products sell the best. And lean can help you achieve this without compromising on development time and the mental health of your team members.