What Is Lean Software Development? Definition, Key Principles, and Benefits Explained

Lean software development is one of the groundbreaking methodologies to have revolutionized the whole value stream in IT. 

The lean methodology can be applied to considerably reduce programming effort, budgeting, and defect rates in software development. Lean thinking has been around for quite a long time, but it’s only recently that Lean has gained popularity in the service industry – in hospitals, banking, and software factories. Today, many software development companies opt for Lean Software Development to manage projects. 

This article provides a comprehensive guide on what is Lean software development, its definition, the difference between lean and agile, the key principles and benefits of lean technology. 

What Is Lean Software Development?

LSD is an agile framework that had been laid out by Toyota — the Japanese automotive giant - at the beginning of the 20th century. It is based on the philosophy of optimizing development time and resources in the manufacturing process while eliminating waste and maximizing value to the customer.

The term was first used in a book by the same name written by Tom And Mary Poppendieck in 2003. It aims at removing everything that is unnecessary, or that does not bring value to the end product. The Lean approach, also called the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) strategy, involves releasing a bare-minimum version of a product in the market, learning user preferences, likes, and dislikes, and then carrying out iterations based on the feedback that eliminate extensive pre-planned specifications.  

More and more organizations are adopting lean software development principles over agile methodologies to gain fast, simple improvements within a short time frame resulting in powerful decision making. 

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What Are the Lean Software Development Principles?

Lean development focuses on reducing the 7 wastes in the manufacturing process — namely overproduction, waiting time, transportation, processing, inventory, motion, and scrap. LSD principles got their start in manufacturing and aimed to optimize the production line to reduce waste and boost value to the customer. 

Like manufacturing, software development also:

  • Follows an iterative process
  • requires specific quality standards
  • relies on collaboration within a group of expert workers

However, manufacturing development deals with the production of physical goods, while in software development, the value is created within the mind of the developer.

The main LSD principles are:

Eliminate Waste

Lean development aims to eliminate anything that does not add value to the customer.

 According to the Toyota School of lean manufacturing, there are seven wastes including:

  • Overproduction – manufacturing product before it is required
  • Unnecessary transportation – Moving inventory from one place to another, wherein there’s a risk of damage without any value addition
  • Inventory – holding inventory increases cost without adding any value to the consumer; excess inventory occupies valuable space, increases lead times and leads to delayed innovation
  • Motion – denotes unnecessary motion of workers 
  • Defects – quality issues cause having to rework or scrap and can lead to excessive additional costs to companies that do not usually find ways to eliminate sources of defects.
  • Over-processing – refers to the usage of advanced, expensive tools instead of simple ones.
  • Waiting – when inventory waits while value-adding steps are being performed.

Tom and Mary Poppendieck translated these wastes to how to eliminate them in software development so as to boost customer satisfaction:

  • Redundant Code or functionality – does not provide additional value to the user; requires time for discussion, development, testing, and documentation; delays feedback loops.
  • Delay in the software development process - slows downtime to the customer, delays feedback loops.
  • Unclear or fluctuating requirements – ends in having to rework, frustration, quality issues, and loss of focus.
  • Slow or ineffective communication – results in delays, poor communication that can affect the reputation of the IT team.
  • Partially done work – does not provide value to the customer or enable the team to gain knowledge from work.
  • Defects and quality issues – abandoned work, lead to rework, and poor customer satisfaction.
  • Switching Tasks – ends in delays, poor work quality, communication issues.

Build Quality

Every organization wants to build quality into their work, and efficient quality management is one of the key principles in lean development methodology. Issues in this area can result in various kinds of wastes. In trying to ensure quality, many teams actually create waste through excessive testing of code or mistakes in logging and resolving them, which takes time and pushes development costs higher. LSD strives to address such issues before they occur. 

Various lean development tools are used in lean and agile development to ensure quality is maintained all along the process. Some of the most popular lean development tools for quality building are:

  • Pair programming – this software engineering method combines the skills and experience of two developers instead of one. Each task is carried out by two developers, which helps figure out more effective solutions and deliver better quality of work. 
  • Test-driven development – tests are written before writing the code so that the engineer can ensure it meets business requirements. 
  • Incremental development and constant feedback
  • Minimize wait states – lower context switching, knowledge gaps, and focus loss
  • Automation – every tedious, manual process or process prone to human error is automated

Create knowledge

This LSD  principle seems simple but needs discipline and focus to be implemented. Lean teams use a combination of the following tools to correctly document and retain valuable learning.

  • Pair Programming
  • Code Reviews
  • Documentation
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Training

Defer Commitment

This principle urges teams to demonstrate responsible decision-making by keeping their options open and constantly gathering information rather than making decisions without required data.

Deliver Fast

Every business strives to deliver fast, to supply value to the customers as quickly as possible. However, there are a few issues that could slow them down like:

  • Excessive planning 
  • Blockers that are not dealt with immediately
  • Over-engineering solutions and business needs

In software, lean development follows the concept of building a simple solution, delivering it to customers, and enhancing it incrementally on the basis of customer feedback. 

Respect For People

Respect for people can be applied to every aspect of the way lean businesses operate – from ways of communicating to handling conflict, hiring and onboarding team members, to dealing with process improvement. 

Lean development encourages respect for people by:

  • Proactive communication
  • Encouraging healthy conflict
  • Solving work-related issues as a team
  • Empowering each other to work better

Optimize the Whole

According to Mary and Tom Poppendieck, lean software development teams often fail due to releasing sloppy code for the sake of speed or overloading of testers. 

Optimizing the whole is a lean development principle that encourages businesses to reduce these issues by operating with an improved understanding of capacity and downstream effects of work. The value stream of a business — that is, the sequence of activities needed to design, produce and deliver a product or service to customers — must be optimized in order to deliver maximum value to customers. 

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Implementing Lean Software Development

Let’s now delve deep into how developers align the principles of lean manufacturing with the lean software development cycle to be able to use it successfully. 

Lean is considered as one of the most effective agile methodologies due to its iterative nature. The lean life cycle starts with project planning, followed by iteration planning. 

Implementing Lean Software Development starts once the iteration plan is formulated. 

Lean developers use project management tools while working on tasks performance. They have to constantly track the software development processor that are no bugs in the intermediate and final products. Bug elimination accounts for large time waste. So, developers prefer to avoid defects or identify them at early stages. 

Once the plan is implemented, the lean team begins the testing process, which helps the developers to deliver products to customers on time. The end of the iterative cycle also marks the time of waste elimination. Thereafter, a new iterative cycle begins. 

Since lean software development methodology offers a customer-based, adaptable and flexible system, there are no strict rules to follow in lean projects. Organizations search for lean development experts who are focused on improving and enhancing lean development skills to build their applications. 

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If you have the skills for the job, you can consider pursuing a career in lean development. Consider avenues for professional development, like certification on management training from Simplilearn, the leading online boot camp in the world. To know more, visit Simplilearn.

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