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The Lean-Agile Mindset

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This chapter is from the book

Thinking Lean

While initially derived from Lean manufacturing,1 the principles and practices of Lean thinking as applied to software, product, and systems development are now deep and extensive. For example, Allen Ward,2 Don Reinertsen,3 Mary and Tom Poppendieck,4 Dean Leffingwell,5 and others have described aspects of the core principles and practices of Lean thinking using a product development context. In combination with these factors, we developed the SAFe House of Lean, inspired by the Toyota “House of Lean” and others.

Goal: Value

The roof of the house represents value. The goal is to deliver the maximum value in the shortest sustainable lead time, while providing the highest possible quality to customers and to society as a whole. High morale, emotional and physical safety, and customer delight are further goals with economic benefits.

Pillar 1: Respect for People and Culture

A Lean-Agile approach doesn’t implement itself or perform any real work. People do all the work. Respect for people and culture is a basic human need. People are empowered to evolve their own practices and improvements. Management challenges people to change and may help steer them toward improvement. However, the teams and individuals learn problem-solving and reflection skills and are accountable for making the appropriate improvements.

To evolve into a Lean organization, the culture will need to change substantially. For that to happen, the organization and its leaders must change first. And respect for people and culture should extend to relationships with suppliers, partners, customers, and the broader community. After all, they are key to the success of the enterprise.

When there is true urgency for change, improvements in culture will naturally occur. First, understand and implement SAFe values and principles. Second, deliver winning results. Changes to culture will surely follow.

Pillar 2: Flow

The key to successfully implementing SAFe is establishing a continuous flow of incremental value delivery based on continuous fast feedback and adjustment.

Continuous flow enables faster value delivery, effective built-in quality practices, constant improvement, and evidence-based governance.

The principles of flow are an important part of the Lean-Agile mindset. These include understanding the full value stream, visualizing and limiting Work in Process (WIP), and reducing batch sizes and managing queue lengths. Additionally, Lean focuses on reducing delays and eliminating waste, meaning activities that add no value.

Pillar 3: Innovation

Flow builds a solid foundation for the delivery of value. But without innovation, both the product and process will steadily decline. In support of innovation, Lean-Agile leaders must do the following:

  • Understand and implement the Japanese concept of “Gemba.” It advises management to “get out of the office” and into the workplace. This is where value is actually produced and products are created and used. As Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno said, “No useful improvement was ever invented at a desk.”

  • Provide a regular time and space for people to be creative. Time for innovation must be purposeful and become part of the natural development rhythm. SAFe’s Innovation and Planning (IP) iteration provides one such opportunity.

  • Avoid the trap of focusing on the “tyranny of the urgent.” Innovation rarely occurs with 100 percent people utilization and constant firefighting.

  • Apply innovation accounting.6 Establish nonfinancial, actionable metrics that provide fast feedback on the important elements of the solution’s new concepts, business model, and/or features.

  • Validate innovations with customers and then pivot without mercy or guilt when the hypothesis needs to change.

Pillar 4: Relentless Improvement

The fourth pillar is relentless improvement. It guides the business to become a learning organization through continuous reflection and adaptation. A constant sense of competitive danger drives it to aggressively pursue improvement opportunities. Leaders and teams systematically do the following:

  • Optimize the whole organization and the development process, not just parts

  • Consider facts carefully and then act quickly

  • Apply Lean tools and techniques to determine the root cause of problems, and apply effective countermeasures quickly

  • Reflect at key milestones to openly identify and address process shortcomings at all levels

Foundation: Leadership

The foundation of Lean is leadership, the key enabler for team success. The ultimate responsibility for the adoption and success of the Lean-Agile paradigm lies with the enterprise’s managers, leaders, and executives. To be successful, leaders must be trained in these new and innovative ways of thinking and exhibit the principles and behaviors of Lean-Agile leadership.

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