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Understanding Lean Software Development in Detail

Alekh Verma | February 8, 2023
Understanding Lean Software Development in Detail

Lean is a new development process that has been developing rapidly in the software industry. It works on the principle of adapting to a company’s growth expectations and developing a product that’s a great fit.

The main objective of a lean development software process is to significantly reduce failure rates, budget, and implementation time. This methodology has been around for a while but it has recently been popularized in the service industries such as healthcare, tech, and banks.  

What is Lean Software Development?

Lean is a method of development that mainly focuses on reducing the efforts and funds it requires to develop. This is an intelligent methodology that reduces the waste a company produces while developing something and that leads to a reduction in budget, production time, and overall failure rates. It works on providing exactly what the company requires and eliminates every unrequired thing around it.

This lean methodology is more popularly known as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) strategy. In this strategy, a company takes the user’s input before production by publishing the bare-bones foundation. As the consumers express their feedback on what they prefer, things they dislike, or want something improved- all these things are taken into account, and based on input the whole process is repeated

The whole credit for inspiring the lean development methodology goes to Toyota Production System and was aimed towards creating something that would help the company optimize production while eliminating excess waste. A lot of other production teams also adopted the concept of lean technique after witnessing Toyota’s success with it. It is now being implemented in various service sectors and IT fields where there are a lot of chances of waste being abundant and costly which leads to repetitive work, redundant practices, and non-value-added operations.

The main principle behind the lean methodology is Value. When you’re removing all the waste from a process, what's left behind does add value to your product.

Moving forward we’re going to discuss the fundamental principles of how lean production approaches are being applied in the field of software development to eliminate cost, risks, and waste, while also working on enhancing customer satisfaction.

Lean software development principles can be broadly compared to that of Agile software development. Some people even go as far as to believe that both technologies are intertwined, while others believe that lean is more effective.

History of Lean Software Development

The idea behind lean software development was generated from the industrial sector which used the lean development process as a method to optimize industrial production, enhance customer satisfaction, and reduce overall waste.

The origin of the lean development system dates back to the mid-twentieth century and earlier it used to be known as the “Toyota production system”. The reason behind this peculiar name is that Toyota was the first company to develop this methodology. At that time Toyota was struggling with some product delivery issues and was unable to deliver products on time owing to the fact that the manufacturing lines were too costly. They were in dire need of a new project management system.

This prompted the company’s executive to come up with a new project management approach called Toyota Production System. This approach was mainly focused on eliminating waste which would lead to better delivery terms. This made it possible for the company to produce finished products quickly by reducing its production lines. It enabled Toyota to develop an effective and clear waste strategy. Now, with the new strategy in place, any activity that was not contributing to the assembly of an automobile was deemed unnecessary and removed from the production chain.

As time progressed a lot of other companies noticed how Toyota’s new development strategy led to improved scheduling, efficacy, resource management, and customer satisfaction, they also adopted this strategy into their project management.

However, it was in 2003 when the concept of the lean methodology being used in software development was introduced in a book titled “Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit”.

Principles of Lean Software Development

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When implemented properly, these 7 principles of lean software development will result in a more consistent and effective product line being produced. These principles vastly decrease the possibilities of failure and help in testing software development processes. However, there are a lot of factors such as the type of software being produced, timescale, project partners, staff, etc., that might affect the application of these approaches.

Like any other industrial production, software development follows the same pattern-

  • The development process is iterative.
  • Certain quality criteria should be met.
  • Highly dependent on team participation.

However, there’s one major difference between the two- industrial production concerns most with developing a physical product whereas software development is the creation of an application or system which is highly dependent on the developer’s imagination. Thus, the main principles concerning the two differ.

Now, let's explore Lean Software Development principles-

1.  Elimination of Waste

The main aim of lean software development methodology is to eliminate waste, which is any activity that does not add any value to the end product delivery. Developers often worry that their waste is not going to end, however, LSD primarily helps with that.

When it comes to software development waste is defined as anything that does not offer any value to the customers, shorten the delivery time, and increase the integrity of the application. In simple terms, waste is anything that does not hold any return value. Anything you spend money on that does not deliver anything in return is a waste.

Some examples of software development waste are unnecessary codes, programs, and superfluous functions that do not serve a purpose and do not offer any advantages to the customers or the company. Wasting resources for the research, debugging, implementation, and documentation of these codes is something that’s not recommended in LSD, and developers are better off eliminating these processes.

However, waste can present itself in numerous other forms which might not always be tied to the steps of your operation. Here are some other examples of common lean waste-

  • User requirements that are not completed.
  • Delays due to bugs or any other system obstacles.
  • Production in excess.
  • Any bad code that requires rework.
  • Any environmental change between coding tasks.

The main task of the LSD team is to visualize the workflow regarding removing any kind of waste. They analyze the whole value delivery flow from conception to completion and check for any steps that do not serve any purpose. Once the flow is completed, these steps are removed which results in accelerated operational productivity and efficiency.

2.  Maximize Learning

The second principle of lean software development focuses on creating knowledge throughout the workflow, which then leads to an increase in customer satisfaction. Here, the main focus of the LSD team is on harboring a culture of knowledge collaboration by performing activities such as knowledge exchange sessions, pair programming, peer evaluations, etc.

For any organization to design successful software which would also offer economic value to the client, they need to have a team of diverse and talented people. To achieve this, the organization must collect knowledge and pass it forward- such as following with evaluation after each iteration process.

Most of the knowledge gathered is technical, while others can be labeled as non-functional. For example, through this process, you’ll get to learn what a potential expects from the program rather than what the developers would anticipate. As a result of this, the company should keep growing and gathering expertise that would allow them to avoid any unexpected circumstances.  

This principle also includes the idea of building feedback mechanisms to gather knowledge on what the audience is expecting from the software- this process can be external as well as internal in nature. The final goal is to gain maximum insight which would allow you to predict and avoid future issues and provide better customer service.

3.  Defer Decision

When a person waits until the last responsible moment to make a decision it is referred to as deferring a decision. The idea behind deferring a decision is that if you keep a decision on hold and pursue something new, then when you come back to an old task you might have gathered more knowledge or insight and it might help with the decision process. However, this process is only applied to decisions that can be postponed, where the deferring of the decision doesn’t adversely affect the whole development process.

The deferring process is especially applied to decisions that have a substantial influence on the success or failure of a project. When it comes to software development, the decision process can be quite volatile which leads to making choices that may appear correct at the beginning of the process but may prove to be erroneous as the project progresses. This one incorrect choice may also lead to a lack of knowledge about the particular task which can turn to reworks or inefficiency in the whole workflow- which is terrible news.

Thus, all the decisions made in the project should be backed by relevant data and monitoring which is only possible in the later stage of development. This would save the organization some time and avoid the risks of needing modifications and losing sight of the project’s main goal.  

While following the lean development methodology, you postpone some dedicated tasks in favor of starting new ones which allows you to maintain the agility to respond to changes whenever it becomes necessary. The theory behind this is the assumption that as soon as a task is deemed unimportant, the team would be able to focus on the following tasks which would help you gather more knowledge about the previous task, which would lower the possibilities of reworks and allow you to manage risks better.

Thus, the longer you defer a decision or conclusion, you’ll gather more knowledge and will be able to build greater skills or comprehension, which would lower the risks of rework afterward.

4.  Faster Delivery

The main focus of this Lean Software Development principle is to increase market performance by supplying the clients with MVPs (Minimum Viable Product) rather than fully functional solutions. Doing so would allow you to deliver the finished product with the necessary revisions considerably faster if you first delivered your preparatory work to the clients earlier in the development process.

Now, the technological world is so fickle and ever-changing that an innovative marketing strategy that was created a few months ago may ultimately turn out to be outdated. However, the customer might still benefit from the project if it is published within a week or two. Therefore, instead of trying to make everything perfect at once, developers should release a product that is just good enough, and they may choose to make changes later on if required.

Doing so is important as it creates a feedback mechanism for businesses to use to better understand the demands of their customers. With this strategy, developers can avoid squandering money on useless items.

Furthermore, the idea of generating a product as quickly as possible allows developers to capitalize on their MVPs before other organizations. It allows businesses to customize upcoming versions of their service to meet customer requests and maximize their overall Return on Investment (ROI).

5.  Build Quality In

The next Lean Software Development principle focuses on integrating quality into a system by emphasizing and promoting the ongoing evaluation of a specific system throughout the manufacturing cycle.

As already discussed earlier, we’re aware that the main goal of lean software development is to reduce waste without having to sacrifice quality. In order to achieve this, developers typically utilize test-driven development (TDD) to review the code before it is written. Some additional ways to improve quality include soliciting ongoing feedback from coworkers and project managers.

Moreover, it is quite wasteful to conduct Quality Control at the end of the development phase. Quality assurance is typically not assessed until the later stages of a project, which can lead to a number of problems. It makes it more difficult for a team to learn important systemic lessons. Additionally, because the system is inconsistent, quality control may go dormant for a long time when development is occurring and vice versa.

Not to mention that there is a large risk of finding critical problems that call for significant reworks when quality is examined after the solution is finished. LSD thus emphasizes Quality Assurance over Quality Control. Making sure that a program solution is routinely reviewed is the aim.

6.  Empower the Team

The lean software development (LSD) methodology, which is similar to Agile development but different from conventional software development methodologies, aims to empower rather than direct the teams. The goal is to provide designers and developers enough freedom and flexibility to make independent decisions while minimizing vulnerability. The core value of lean is respect for the team, which calls for fostering a positive workplace culture.

This idea emphasizes the need to allow people to express their feelings and thoughts in a safe environment. The purpose is to recognize that the organization's greatest asset is its workforce. As a result, managers or supervisors must show sympathy, encourage workers to voice their opinions about work practices or challenges, and get their input while making decisions.

Thus, managers should include team members in the creation of a collective goal when it comes to valuing the team, which, as indicated above, relates to enabling people to make local decisions regarding their job. This tactic gives them more control and fosters a sense of unity.

7.  Optimize the whole

The fourth concept enables businesses to identify solutions by assessing a system's effectiveness as a whole rather than just its component parts. The fundamental strategy for tackling problems is to break them down into smaller conundrums and keep removing the development risks.

The company must, however, be fully aware of the current development stage as well as the concept and objective of the program being developed in order to pinpoint the problem's root cause. Lean views businesses as systems made up of one or more value chains that connect related operations like marketing, sales, and innovation.

In order to offer clients, the best benefits possible and to find and fix mistakes in product delivery, optimizations must be focused on the entire value chain. Lean Software Development teams start by looking at the flow of value to achieve this. As a result, they may run into challenges and run into issues with their operations.

Lean Software Department Benefits

1.  Removes Waste

The development process is more productive overall because of waste elimination. Thus, the software development life cycle is sped up while requiring less time and money to complete the project. This is essential in the modern world. Success will come from anything that enables businesses to finish more things in the same or a lesser amount of time.

2.  Completes Projects on Schedule

A clear advantage is having the product delivered on time, which suggests your project team can produce more features in less time, enabling you to finish more jobs. It will dazzle both your clients and your financial department.

3.  Gives the Project and Development Team more control

Giving the project or development team members more autonomy fosters the development of team members' decision-making skills, creating a favorable work atmosphere and a motivated workforce. It is important to underline this benefit as nothing aggravates developers more than being constantly scrutinized and having decisions made for them. This enables them to choose the most effective way to improve the functionality, which typically results in a far better end product.

4.  Strengthens Knowledge

Instant code analysis accentuates and magnifies the discoveries during iterations. To prevent the knowledge accumulation of a single software developer, pair programming is advised. The learning process is sped up with the aid of conferences, comments, manual testing, and review codes.

Lean Software Department Drawbacks

1.  Thorough documentation

LSD is a sequential process that employs thorough, trustworthy data or exact numbers at each phase. Therefore, it is crucial that each step is carefully recorded or documented. Failure to do so may result in developmental issues and have unintended consequences by demanding more work and resources than originally anticipated.

2.  Versatility

The Software Requirement Specification (SRS) is allowed to expand in lean production. Unfortunately, this raises fresh issues or difficulties. Flexibility is great, but too much of it can lead to innovation that never succeeds because it loses sight of its original objectives.

3.  Scalability Dimensions

Teamwork and individual contributions from members of the team or the group are crucial to the success of the effort. As a result, scaling at a faster rate than traditional software development approaches are not practical.

Conclusion

Most businesses that employ Lean Software Development conclude that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. LSD speeds up ongoing innovations and focuses attention on the key components to satisfy a user's requirement, enabling the team to move forward with confidence in the majority of usage situations.

It takes commitment to eliminate tasks or services that fall outside the purview of the MVP, but if you employ the LSD technique, you'll undoubtedly have the chance to improve your MVP following a successful market launch.

Alekh Verma

CEO and Founder at eSearch Logix Technologies!

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