What is Lean Development?
What is LEAN Development?
Several people recently asked me independent from each other, “What is lean development all about?” And as I read, study, and explore the topic, the word system keeps coming to the forefront of my brain. And the word system informs the definition of lean development.
Lean development is the application of a set of methods and techniques that work together to create a system that optimizes value and reduces wastes across the entire life cycle of the system.
So if that is the definition, what images come to mind?
First of all, we need to think of things as systems. The automobile with all of its components is a system. It is made up of multiple subsystems from the engine, the transmission, the steering, braking, environmental comfort, computer, etc. All of the systems have to work together. A design process that is lean seeks to create a system that provides the most value with the least amount of waste. Value can be measured by attributes such as affordability or maintainability. Wastes can be measured by things that detract from the value such as complexity or danger. For instance, complexity often makes the auto less maintainable, or at the least more costly to maintain. Designs that provide the most value with the smallest amount of wastes built into them are the most desirable. And for a complex system like an automobile, each sub-system must also be optimized for value and minimized for waste.
The automobile is a product system. But there are many systems. A hospital is a system. A building is a system. A business is a system. The manufacturing process is a system. Even your finances are a system. The list goes on and on.
Other images that comes to mind are systems from nature. Nature is filled with systems. A tree is a system. Our bodies are a system. A lake or stream is a system. A habitat is a system. A collection of animals is a system. When multiples of these come together, we give them a special name – an ecosystem. In the grand design of nature, our creator placed us in an amazing set of systems. Everything from the solar system we live in, to this planet, to the ground we use to create food, to our communities; each is a system that provides infinite possibilities and usefulness. And each system has a very optimized design. So some of the best examples of designs that are lean come from nature. And, nature’s efficient systems can be placed in our own man-made designs.
Second, lean development seeks to optimize the value in the system. Values are the things that the end user or customer needs or wants. Lean development also utilizes an integrated product team to find best ways to increase the values in the system. Lean development also thinks about the value of the system over its entire life, from beginning to end, from creation to disposal and recycled into something new. In the ideal system, everything works together. If things are not working together, or competing with each other, then the system breaks down. If we think of our bodies in this way, we all know that all of the parts of the system must work together. If any individual part of our bodies isn’t working, well the whole system fails. We can echo the psalmist who said, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Third, lean development seeks to minimize the wastes that are built into the system, or might creep into the system overtime. Some wastes start out in the system. Computer systems might have software bugs or viruses. Once they enter the system, or are exposed, they can create a lot of havoc. The automobile might have a poor quality part in a critical system that causes the whole system to fail.
As practitioners of the discipline of Lean Development, we are attempting to create Lean Products and Processes through the application of lean thinking. We do that through a series of tools and techniques. Some of them borrowed from lean manufacturing, and others from various design disciplines. But, the tools are a means to an end. The ultimate goal of lean development is to create the best system possible.
Here is an example to bring it all together:
The headlights in the VW Beetle (or call it the headlight system) is not a design that follows lean principles. The headlights stay on at all times, which is a great safety feature that probably saves lives (value), but the replacement of the bulb is very complex because the whole headlight system must be removed to replace the bulb which is very difficult to do (waste). On one side, the battery must be removed to access the headlight canister (complexity). My regular mechanic won’t even touch the thing, and I have to take it to the dealer who charges a fair amount (waste) to replace the bulb which costs just a few dollars. Since the replacement now requires an appointment at the dealer, the repair is delayed (waste). The fact that the headlights stay on all the time is a great feature (value), but the fact that the bulbs have to be changed more often at a higher cost is a huge annoyance (waste over the entire life cycle). Overall, the increased safety is still worth the hassle and cost, but with a little more attention to designing out the wastes, the team of engineers (obviously not an integrated product team) could have created a design that is lean from the start.