Lean-Agile

mindset-icon_lean-agile

Agile teams are the building blocks of the Digital Continuum, but Agile alone is insufficient for scaling Agile across an entire organization. A more holistic understanding of how value is delivered in an organization is needed to maximize flow across multiple parts of an organization, and Lean product development thinking provides a means for identifying and correcting bottlenecks in an organization. Lean thinking provides organizations with the tools they need to scale Agile beyond individual development teams to the entire enterprise.

Agile methodologies have revolutionized software development in the last two decades, and since 2010 they have become the standard approach for the creation of digital solutions.

At the team level, Agile best practices provide teams with the mindset to achieve high levels of productivity and flexibility. Many different Agile methodologies exist, from Scrum to Extreme Programming, but they all embody the basic tenets of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan1

The benefits of Agile development practices are by now well acknowledged:

  • 18-20% improved time to market
  • 14-95% improved productivity
  • 7-29% reduction in costs
  • 20-40% increase in employee satisfaction2

Agile teams are the building blocks of the Digital Continuum, but Agile alone is insufficient for scaling Agile across an entire organization. A more holistic understanding of how value is delivered in an organization is needed to maximize flow across multiple parts of an organization, and Lean product development thinking provides a means for identifying and correcting bottlenecks in an organization.

According to Rally Software, its customers see a 50% increase in time to market and a 25% increase in productivity when using a Lean-Agile hybrid instead of Agile alone.3

The goal of Lean thinking, originally developed from Toyota manufacturing practices in the 1970s, is to improve the lead time and sustainability of value creation within an organization. To this end, it focuses on how value creation works across an entire organization, not just development teams, so that wasteful activities that hamper the creation of value for customers are removed. For example, an individual Agile team may be high performing, but it may lack the infrastructure to quickly release its code, or it may be dependent on a product owner that does not have the capacity or decision-making authority to deliver timely requirements to the team.

The application of Lean thinking beyond the team level to program, business unit or enterprise levels within an organization has resulted in new development frameworks like the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®), which calls the resulting mindset the Lean-Agile Mindset.4

Characteristics

Organizations that embrace the Lean-Agile Mindset embrace the following four practices:

Agile Teams

Small Agile teams, typically using the Scrum development methodology, are the building blocks of the Digital Continuum. Teams generally follow such Scrum best practices as daily standups, timeboxed development sprints, and regular planning and demo rituals, but may employ different methodologies including Kanban, depending on the nature of their work.

Systems Thinking

On their own, Agile teams are not sufficient. Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how all parts of a system fit together, and an understanding of how all teams and subsystems influence each other. This is needed to ensure that they are working towards the same end and that friction points are mitigated. Frameworks such as SAFe® can provide the larger organizational structure and rituals such as program-level team planning that facilitate a systems-wide view.

Validated Learning

Organizations that embrace Lean thinking do so not only to identify waste in the development process, but also to minimize wasteful investments in ideas that do not provide value to customers. To this end, Lean organizations treat all business activities as experiments that are subject to repeated Build-Measure-Learn cycles that iteratively validate direction. These cycles often begin with the implementation of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Once the MVP is released to customers, reaction is measured. When such experiments start to yield diminishing returns, it’s time to pivot to whatever new approach is suggested by findings.

Lean-Agile Leadership

Leadership at all levels of an organization must exhibit Lean and Agile values, including servant leadership, a respect for all team members and focus on sustainability. The primary causes of failed Agile projects are often lack of management support and company cultures that are at odds with core Agile values.5

In successful organizations, leadership up to and including the C-level is trained in Lean and Agile. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article even makes the forceful argument that leadership should use Agile techniques for many management functions.6

Pain Points

Organizations that do not follow Lean-Agile best practices typically encounter the following four pain points.

Project Failure

Projects can fail for a number of reasons, including budget overruns, schedule delays, quality issues or low customer satisfaction. Projects not run in an Agile manner are more than three times as likely to fail as Agile projects.7

Poor Culture and Low Employee Morale

A recent McKinsey analysis suggests organizations that do not embrace Lean-Agile values are much more likely to suffer from management practices that lead to poorly motivated employees and a stifled culture. In contrast, 70% of Agile companies rank in the top quartile for organizational health including factors such as accountability, innovation, and motivation.8

Building the Wrong Product Faster

Agile helps teams efficiently build a product, but without ongoing MVP validation by actual customers or willingness to pivot, those teams are at risk of delivering a product that doesn’t serve the needs of the customer. Agile adoption without Lean product development thinking often means that teams simply build the wrong product faster than before.

Agile Silos

Organizations that embrace Agile approaches at the team level may find it difficult to scale Agile through the organization if they don’t apply a Lean approach to the larger systems in which those teams operate. According to VersionOne, nearly 40% of Agile practitioners indicate that they are unable to scale Agile in their organization because of rigid processes that surround them.9 As discussed, it’s not enough to simply create Agile teams; the bottlenecks in processes around them must also be removed for true productivity and speed benefits to be realized.

Conclusion

Agile development teams are the foundation of any successful digital organization, and Agile practices like incremental planning and timeboxed sprints can result in impressive improvements to productivity, time to market, and employee morale. However, the true benefits of Agile cannot be realized until Lean product development thinking can be used to scale Agile throughout an organization, remove barriers that impede individual Agile teams, and iteratively validate product ideas. A Lean-Agile Mindset that unifies Agile and Lean practices and is championed by an organization’s leadership is a crucial prerequisite for the Digital Continuum.

References