Lean Agile, often called Lean-Agile or Agile at Scale, combines Lean principles and Agile software development methodologies for larger, more complex projects and organizations. It extends Agile concepts to address the challenges of managing large teams, multiple projects, and complex systems while still emphasizing customer value, collaboration, and adaptability.
Lean Agile principles play a significant role in modern project management and software development by extending Agile principles to larger, more complex endeavors. It enables organizations to scale Agile practices effectively, foster collaboration, reduce waste, and remain adaptable in the face of changing market conditions and customer demands.
This post will provide a comprehensive understanding of Lean Agile principles.
What is Lean Agile?
Lean Agile is a project management and software development approach that combines Lean principles with Agile methodologies to address the challenges of managing larger and more complex projects or organizations. It extends the core principles of Agile teams, such as customer-centricity, collaboration, business agility, and continuous improvement, to a broader context, maintaining the benefits of Lean while delivering innovative solutions.
Lean Agile frameworks and practices aim to optimize processes, minimize waste, and enhance efficiency within a broader economic framework while focusing on delivering customer value.
The fundamental idea behind combining Lean and Agile methodologies is to leverage the strengths of both approaches to achieve a more holistic and adaptable way of working that enables business agility. Lean principles provide a foundation for process optimization, waste reduction, and efficient resource allocation. At the same time, a scaled Agile framework offers a customer-centric, iterative, and collaborative approach that can respond to changing requirements and priorities, thus achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.
By merging these two philosophies, organizations can apply the Lean Agile mindset effectively, improve their overall operational efficiency, and remain agile in the face of evolving customer needs and market dynamics. This integration enables large enterprises to embrace Lean thinking while preserving Agile practices' agility and focus on customer value. This results in more systems thinking and efficient and responsive project management and software development processes.
10 Lean Agile principles
Lean Agile principles borrow critical elements from the Agile Manifesto and Lean Manufacturing to form values that underpin all continuous improvement work.
Several companies and projects have successfully implemented Lean Agile principles, resulting in significant positive outcomes. Here are a few examples:
Spotify: Spotify, the popular music streaming service, adopted the "Spotify Model" for scaling Agile. They organized their development teams into "Squads," "Tribes," and "Guilds" to encourage collaboration and autonomy while maintaining alignment with the company's strategic goals. This development process has allowed Spotify to rapidly deliver new features and adapt to changing market demands, contributing to their continued growth and success.
SAFe at Intel: Intel implemented the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to coordinate and align its software development efforts across various teams and locations. Adopting Lean software development methods has helped Intel streamline its processes, reduce lead times, and enhance collaboration, resulting in improved product quality and faster time-to-market.
Agile Government Initiatives: Various government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Digital Service, have embraced Lean Agile methodologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their projects. For example, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) adopted Agile practices to accelerate the acquisition process for critical defense technologies, reducing procurement times and enhancing innovation.
Scaled Agile at Boeing: Boeing implemented Lean-Agile practices using SAFe to manage large-scale projects such as aircraft development. By embracing Lean product development, Boeing has achieved better collaboration among teams, reduced development cycle times, and increased the ability to adapt to changing requirements, contributing to successful product launches and customer satisfaction.
These examples demonstrate that Lean Agile methodology can be effectively applied across various industries and project types to achieve improved collaboration, faster delivery, higher quality products, and increased adaptability to changing market conditions and customer needs.
Here are the 10 Lean Agile principles that have led to these significant achievements.
Take an economic view
The Lean Agile principle "Take an economic view" emphasizes making decisions based on a clear understanding of the economic implications and value associated with a project, feature, or task. It encourages teams and organizations to consider the financial aspects of their work and prioritize efforts that maximize return on investment (ROI) and minimize waste.
Teams should assess the potential return on investment for various initiatives and prioritize those that offer the greatest economic value. This involves weighing the expected benefits against the costs, including development time, resources, and expenses.
Lean Agile promotes identifying and eliminating activities that do not contribute to the economic goals of the project or organization. This includes avoiding unnecessary features, processes, and activities that add no value to the customer.
Apply systems thinking
The Lean Agile principle of "Apply systems thinking" underscores the importance of considering the broader system and interdependencies within it when making decisions and managing projects. It encourages teams and organizations to view their work as part of a more extensive system, understanding how changes in one area can impact and optimize the entire system rather than just its individual components.
Systems thinking emphasizes identifying and addressing constraints within the system that limit its overall performance. By identifying and resolving bottlenecks or constraints, teams can optimize the flow of work and enhance the entire system's efficiency.
Assume variability; preserve options
The following principle, "Assume variability; preserve options," acknowledges the inherent uncertainty and variability in project and product development. It encourages teams and organizations to embrace this variability rather than trying to predict or eliminate it. Instead, they should focus on preserving multiple options and making decisions at the last responsible moment to respond effectively to changing circumstances.
Lean Agile recognizes that predicting all variables and factors affecting a project or product is challenging. Therefore, teams should acknowledge the existence of variability and uncertainty as natural aspects of the development process. Teams should deliberately create and maintain multiple options and alternatives throughout the development lifecycle. This includes deferring decisions until necessary and not committing to a single course of action prematurely.
Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
The Lean Agile principle "Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles" emphasizes the value of breaking down the development process into smaller, manageable increments and iterating quickly. It encourages teams and organizations to deliver working solutions or features regularly and use these iterations as opportunities for rapid learning and improvement.
With these product development flow practices, teams should work in short, time-boxed cycles, often called iterations or sprints. These cycles typically range from one to four weeks to deliver a working product increment at the end of each cycle within the shortest sustainable lead time.
Learning is an integral part of each iteration. Teams should seek to gather feedback from stakeholders and users early and often, integrating this feedback into subsequent iterations to make improvements and refinements.
Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems
In the world of Lean Agile, the principle "Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems" stands as a beacon of rationality. It encourages teams and organizations to gauge progress and success not by vague, subjective criteria but by tangible results. This means that rather than relying on arbitrary deadlines or speculative assumptions, the focus shifts to assessing the actual working systems and products. To do this effectively, teams should set clear, measurable criteria that define success and progress. These milestones are rooted in the practical realities of what has been achieved, not what was planned. By embracing this principle, Lean Agile promotes a culture of transparency and accountability, ensuring that all stakeholders have a clear, objective understanding of the status of a project, and facilitating data-driven decisions and continuous improvement.
Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
The idea behind "Visualize and limit WIP (Work in Progress), reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths" is to recognize the importance of visualizing the flow of work, controlling the amount of work in progress, reducing the size of work batches, and managing the length of queues to optimize efficiency and effectiveness.
Lean Agile leaders should create visual representations (e.g., Kanban boards or task boards) that allow everyone to see the status and flow of work items. This transparency enables better coordination and decision-making.
By setting explicit limits on the number of work items that can be in progress at any given time, teams avoid overloading themselves with too much work, leading to bottlenecks and decreased productivity.
Apply cadence; synchronize with cross-domain planning
The Lean Agile value of "Apply cadence; synchronize with cross-domain planning" emphasizes establishing regular, predictable rhythms or cadences for planning and coordination. It encourages teams to align their activities with broader cross-functional team planning efforts to ensure synchronization and collaboration across the organization.
Teams must synchronize their activities with planning efforts that span multiple domains or teams within the organization. This alignment helps ensure that work is coordinated effectively. Cross-domain planning involves coordinating activities and priorities across different teams or departments. It promotes a unified approach to achieving organizational goals and building a culture of continuous improvement.
Applying cadence and synchronization enhances predictability in project timelines and delivery, reducing surprises and bottlenecks.
Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
This principle underscores the importance of fostering an environment where individuals are intrinsically motivated and empowered to excel in their roles. It recognizes that factors beyond external rewards drive knowledge workers and that organizations should tap into these intrinsic motivations to enhance creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction.
Knowledge workers are motivated by autonomy, mastery, purpose, and a sense of accomplishment. Lean Agile encourages organizations to understand and nurture these intrinsic motivators. Teams and individuals should be given the autonomy to make decisions, manage their work, and take ownership of their tasks. Empowerment fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability.
The Lean Agile principle of "Decentralized decision-making" advocates for distributing decision-making authority throughout an organization rather than concentrating it in a centralized hierarchy. It empowers teams and individuals to make decisions at the appropriate level, fostering agility, autonomy, and responsiveness.
Teams are encouraged to be self-organizing and self-managing, allowing them to determine how best to achieve their goals and meet customer needs. Teams closer to customers and their needs can make decisions that align more closely with customer expectations, leading to higher customer satisfaction.
Decentralized decision-making promotes adaptability by allowing teams to adjust their strategies and tactics based on changing circumstances or feedback.
Organize around value
This principle emphasizes structuring an organization, its teams, and its processes in a way that prioritizes the delivery of customer value. It encourages alignment of efforts with the customer's needs and the organization's goals to ensure that work is focused on the most valuable outcomes.
The primary focus is on understanding and meeting the needs of customers. This requires organizations to continuously assess customer preferences and align their activities accordingly. Lean Agile practices often involve value stream mapping to visualize the flow of work from idea to delivery, helping identify areas where value can be maximized and inefficiencies eliminated.
Organizing around value requires a clear understanding of what is most valuable to customers and the organization. Teams should prioritize work items based on their potential for delivering value.
Getting started with implementation
Implementing the Lean Agile methodology offers several compelling benefits for organizations seeking to thrive in today's fast-paced and competitive business landscape. First and foremost, Lean Agile promotes agility, allowing organizations to respond swiftly to changing customer demands, market conditions, and technological advancements. By adopting iterative and incremental development approaches, such as Scrum or Kanban, teams can deliver value to customers in shorter cycles, reducing time-to-market and ensuring that their products and services remain relevant and competitive. This adaptability also empowers organizations to embrace change as a positive force, accommodating evolving requirements and continuously improving their processes to stay ahead of the curve.