What is Lean Software Development?

We discuss the Lean software development methodology and how it benefits developers and project managers. Learn more.

Lean software development tutorials.

The Lean software development methodology has gained a lot of traction in the software development industry, having its original principles rooted in the Toyota Production System for car manufacturing. The goal of Lean is to improve software quality, reduce waste, and make the software development process more efficient. This programming tutorial takes a deep dive into the origins of the Lean methodology, its advantages, and how to successfully implement its principles during the software development life cycle (SDLC).

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What is Lean software development used for?

Developers and project managers of development teams choose Lean because it helps them deliver quality software products that meet (or excel) customer needs and expectations. Lean focuses on the reduction of resource waste, increasing efficiency, and improving software quality, which leads to faster product delivery times, lower costs, increased profits, and better customer satisfaction.

Lean also aids teams by allowing them to continuously learn and fine-tune their processes, which leads to a more efficient software development team. With a focus on delivering value to the customer, teams are better equipped to avoid wasting time and resources on features that do not provide value or that are not important to the target audience.

What are the benefits of Lean software development?

There are plenty of benefits to using the Lean method in a software development environment. One main benefit, as we discussed above, is the reduction of wasted resources, which can include personnel hours, overhead costs, software subscriptions, and overall overhead. The less “lean” a team is, the more time they will spend on useless features and bloated codebases.

Lean also helps project managers and developers to continuously learn and improve their processes and workflows, making the team more effective at delivering software on time and under budget. Additionally, incorporating Lean values ​​improves time-to-market and increases the number of updates or other products the team can deliver each year.

What are the principles of Lean software development?

Lean is a programming methodology built on the principles of lean manufacturing. Lean focuses on delivering value, reducing waste, and continuously improving processes; it does this by implementing seven core principles that act as a sort of framework for software developers, helping them to focus on eliminating waste, learning, delaying decisions, delivering products quickly, empowering the team, and building trust with stakeholders and customers alike.

The seven core principles of Lean software development include:

  • Reduce or eliminate waste: Reducing waste means focusing on reducing unnecessary code, without losing software quality. Examples of eliminating waste include removing unnecessary features, refactoring code, streamlining workflows, and avoiding code bloat.
  • Amplify learning: In general, programmers and project managers need to continuously learn and grow their skills. Part of this process involves gathering feedback from managers, customers and stakeholders, then using that feedback to make improvements to software and workflows. Examples of amplified learning include reviewing and evaluating software on a frequent basis, analyzing software performance, and performing usability tests.
  • Decide as late as possible: Software development teams, and project managers of those teams, should make it a habit to delay making decisions until they have as much information as possible. Taking this approach reduces the risk of making decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. Examples of this principle include delaying detailed design until the last possible moment and making backlog requests a priority based on which items and tasks are the most important.
  • Deliver as fast as possible: Identifying and prioritizing the most important features to customers can help developers reduce the overall time-to-market while increasing customer satisfaction with the final product. Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, can be implemented alongside Lean to simplify testing and deployment, optimizing the development timeline.
  • Empowering the team: Project managers should grant development teams the authority to make educated decisions and be responsible for their work. Taking this approach often results in improved motivation and morale, better accountability, and overall improvement to performance. Fostering and nurturing a collaborative development environment, where team members are encouraged to share knowledge and work towards a common goal is one way to empower employees.
  • Build in integrity: Project managers should focus the team on building quality into the product from the start. This focus helps reduce software defects and bugs and improves user experience. Continuous testing and code reviews are two examples of how developers can build integrity into software from the start.
  • See the whole picture: Programmers and PMs should take a holistic view of the software development life cycle, as well as the product. Doing so ensures that each team member and stakeholder is working towards the same goal and decisions are made from a “bigger picture” perspective. Taking a holistic view means your team should create a shared understanding of the final product and actively manage dependencies.

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History of Lean development

The Lean methodology finds its origins in the Toyota Production System, which was created by the car manufacturer Toyota in the 1950s. Toyota’s aim was to minimize waste during the manufacturing process and it used two fundamental principles to achieve this: just-in-time (JIT) production (a phrase Java developers may be familiar with as well) and the Kanban system, which is another popular project management methodology.

JIT production is the process of producing goods only when necessary, while Kanban, in a manufacturing environment, acts as a visual signal that aids in inventory management and production processes. Later on, Mary and Tom Poppendiecks adapted these two principles to the software development process and detailed the beginnings of the Lean methodology in their book “Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit”. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, Lean software development has enjoyed many changes and enhancements, including the integration of Agile methodologies and philosophies, which provide a more effective approach to software development. Many companies have successfully implemented Lean outside of Toyota, and the methodology is expected to continue to enjoy widespread growth in the developer community.

Final thoughts on Lean development

In this programming tutorial we discussed the Lean software development and project management methodology. We learned that it was founded on the principles of the Toyota Production System, and aims to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and enhance the quality of software products. Teams using Lean place an emphasis on delivering customer value and continuously improving processes, which leads to high-quality software products that focus on customer needs.