In order to deliver fast, organizations must manage flow by limiting work in process (WIP) and maintaining a relentless focus on value delivery. The Agile software development model was created to help companies deliver value fast. Delivering ongoing security fixes quickly and at regular intervals for PC and server operating systems or mobile operating systems is an example.
But this also applies to companies that make products. PC vendors often aim to design and ship products built around the latest microprocessor or graphics processing technology as soon as those products become available.
The Lean principle of create knowledge is related to the concept of optimizing the whole. A Lean organization is a learning organization; it grows and develops through analyzing the results of small, incremental batches / experiments of a given process over time. Even small process improvements can have a major impact on production, delivery, or overall quality – especially when implemented in high-volume processes.
Additionally, those small process improvements can come from any team member, from individual employees on the manufacturing floor to a product owner or a Scrum Master. That’s why autonomy is such an important concept for Agile teams and in Lean thinking.
While autonomy allows for improvements to come from the team level, it is also important to capture information from feedback loops in a systematic way. At the organizational level, this allows for learning to be retained and shared. That is why the Lean principle of create knowledge says that Lean organizations must provide the infrastructure to properly document and retain valuable learnings.
Lean thinking is derived from the manufacturing philosophy of Toyota, which emphasized a just-in-time system of inventory management. For a lot of businesses, it’s instinctual to feel pressure to plan and sometimes complete work well ahead of deadlines, especially when there’s much at stake.
But doing so can lead to a lack of flexibility that could impact a company’s ability to continuously deliver value to customers. Starting too early often results in waste in the form of excessive planning or context switching where teams focus their resources on the wrong priorities.
The Lean principle of defer commitment says that Lean organizations should also function as just-in-time systems, waiting until the last responsible moment to make decisions. This allows Lean organizations to have the agility to make informed decisions, with the most relevant, up-to-date information available.
The success of any Lean initiative hinges upon one Lean principle: Respect people. Businesses design and deliver products that serve customers. If we look at things from a process perspective, the journey to customers goes from an idea to planning, design, production, and ultimately to delivery.
Effective product development depends on strong teams collaborating across departments, strengthened both by the work stream experience and by the knowledge obtained through ongoing customer feedback.
Doing it right means a company respects people at multiple levels, resulting in a win-win for all:
- Out of respect for the customer, we make decisions that will bring them the most value with minimal waste
- Out of respect for our employees, we create environments that allow everyone to do their best work
- Out of respect for our coworkers, we continuously strive to optimize our processes to allow everyone to deliver the most value they can provide