10 Lean Agile Principles That Transform Your Business

Lean Agile principles, tools, and methodologies transform your business into an engine of innovation by cutting waste and maximizing value.

Every business must keep pace, and then accelerate past, its competition. To do that, your team needs to be more productive to get tasks done at a faster rate. But how do you improve productivity?

The key to increasing your productivity is adopting the Lean Agile process. There’s been a lot of hype around Lean Agile innovation. That’s because teams today are using these methods to enjoy their work, help keep customers happy, and get their work done a lot faster than they would by using traditional processes.

Organizations are adopting Lean Agile to cut some of the waste that comes with adopting Agile at scale. Teams using Lean Agile report more satisfaction in their work and faster — and more efficient — delivery of value to customers.

What is Lean Agile?

Lean Agile is a set of principles and practices that minimize waste (Lean) and maximize value (Agile). Lean Agile helps teams deliver faster results by reducing the amount of work in process (WIP) and managing the flow to improve focus, reduce context switching, and remove waste: wasted tasks, time, and money.

Agile teams are encouraged to manage flow by creating cross-functional teams that work together to deliver one iteration at a time. When you put the two together, “Lean and Agile,” you implement Agile while recognizing Lean values and practices. Agile looks to improve the product itself; Lean looks to improve the process that delivers products.

Originally intended for manufacturing, Lean was later recognized as appropriate and applicable for software development. When using Lean, the focus is to minimize waste while maximizing customer value.

In software development, lean project management means removing unnecessary defects, features, revisions, and more, while Agile promotes adaptivity and collaboration in uncertain environments.

How Lean Agile began

In 2001, 17 prominent developers called “organizational anarchists” had a meeting in Snowbird, Utah; among them was Jeff Sutherland, creator of “the Scrum.” The group included advocates of many competitive approaches, such as adaptive software development (ASD), extreme programming (XP), dynamic systems development method (DSDM), and feature-driven development (FDD). These approaches were known as “lightweight frameworks” since they involved simpler and fewer ways to adapt to new rapidly changing environments.

The group settled on a name for their movement: “Agile.” The group developed 12 operating principles, which they called “Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto.”

As agile methods evolved, MIT researchers studied the methods behind Japanese manufacturing systems, including the Toyota production system.  They coined the term “Lean” since it described lean methodology/principles to improve productivity by eliminating waste through reductions in destructive, overburdening, and uneven workflows. Lean advocates focused more on customer collaboration, but eventually, Lean Agile implementation came together as valid applications of Lean Agile principles and values.

How Lean Agile works

Rather than deliver software in large batches, Agile teams work to deliver working software as fast as possible by taking an iterative approach. Teams practicing Agile use the frequent deployment of code to receive customer feedback quickly and use it to influence their upcoming work. This means teams can implement changes required even later in the development process. These iterative development principles align with lean principles to defer commitment and deliver fast.

Lean helps improve focus and reduce context switching by managing the flow to limit the WIP and delivering quickly. Agile team members manage flow working as a cross-functional team to deliver one repetition at a time. This provides Lean users with the agility to make more informed decisions with the most up-to-date and relevant information.

Short feedback loops also help teams work on updated business requirements. Daily cooperation between developers and business stakeholders enables team members to eliminate things that do not provide value to the customer while prioritizing tasks based on company goals.

10 Lean Agile principles

Every business wants to meet deadlines as fast as possible. Lean Agile is an adaptive process that uses the phase-gated approach to do things one phase at a time. This is vital to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). Product development teams use SAFe to improve productivity, time to market, employee engagement, and the end solution quality.

There are 10 chief underlying principles that help in the effective management of enterprises:

1. Take an economic view

The economic view is achieved by delivering often and delivering early. To do this, apply the following framework:

  • Operate within the budget
  • Leverage supplier
  • Understand the economic trade-off
  • Sequence jobs to yield maximum benefits

2. Apply systems thinking

Understand the system’s aim as it offers a holistic way of developing solutions to problems by incorporating all system aspects and designing, deploying, developing, and maintaining.

Chief system aspects include:

  • The system and solution are the same.
  • The enterprise that develops the system is a system too.
  • The value stream is required to be optimized.

3. Assume variability; preserve options

The Lean Agile principles provide room for future design options. Design options will converge and open based on the situation and lead to optimal economic outcomes.

  • Accept the current variability and re-examine the requirement points to refine the variability in future iterations.
  • Follow a set-based design approach by developing a wider cast at the beginning itself, keeping different options open.
  • Based on the availability of the system and the economy, use one option while preserving others to use later.

4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

Reduce risks by allowing customers to view incremental builds. Incremental building allows for a rapid learning cycle. Use these integration points for complex systems to check each system and ensure they meet the responsibility.

5. Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems

The Lean Agile principles break down traditional methods to set-based design. These increments build integrated learning cycles rapidly. Therefore, a milestone is involved at every point, which covers the entire SDLC from the testing requirement and creates a value increment.

6. Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths

Visualizing the WIP allows it to be limited by lowering the batch size and managing queue lengths. To achieve a continuous flow and move new system features quickly, follow all three methods:

  • Make WIP visible to all stakeholders
  • Balance the WIP at the development capacity
  • Limit WIP by lowering the work size

7. Apply cadence; synchronize with cross-domain planning

Cadence principles of flow:

  • Prevent variance accumulation by using regular cadence.
  • Enable small batch sizes with periodical cadence.
  • Enable cadence by providing a sufficient capacity margin.

8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

The following guidelines are suggested by Lean Agile principles to motivate skilled workers:

  • Education about the compensation for a role is required in an enterprise.
  • Provide independence that defines the mission and purpose.
  • They must make decisions and understand economics.
  • Create a mutually influential environment.
  • They will feel motivated if they can operate on their own.

9. Decentralize decision-making

Distribute the decision-making process to reduce delay and improve development flow to further enable faster feedback with innovative solutions.

10. Organize around value

Establish a new value-based organization with the following steps:

  1. Rethink the organization.
  2. Understand the flow value.
  3. Realize value stream of agile teams and trains.
  4. Collect value streams, calling it portfolio.
  5. Reorganize based on values.

Getting started with implementation

Organizations struggle to implement Agile team best practices when siloed teams do not have visibility into other workstreams, leading to funding of non-strategic or redundant work. Without financial transparency across the enterprise, the cost of production defects is hidden within individual teams —reducing funding to new workstreams while increasing budget variance.

Teams continue to use many different tools and continue to struggle with no single source of truth that rolls up data at the team, program, portfolio, and enterprise level. Integration to financial planning is manual, slowing the process considerably and preventing a true value stream model with dynamic funding decisions.

Apptio Targetprocess is a leading enterprise agile management solution that enables organizations to rapidly scale and adopt Agile practices and accelerate business agility. By connecting strategy to execution and being the only solution that integrates directly with the industry-leading ApptioOne financial management platform, Targetprocess enables the enterprise to track the full ROI of their innovation workstreams and make smarter decisions about technology investments. Request a demo today.

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