Lean Principles: Using Lean to Identify Areas for Improvement & Measure Those Improvements
Since Lean, at its heart, is simply a method for making continual incremental improvements, and a guide for measuring those improvements, it’s a methodology that works well with the Agile Process. With our clients, we typically apply several key Lean Principles as we begin any new project.
Lean Principle #1: Begin by identifying your constraints
One of the most basic tenets of Lean is that you have to begin to improve the system by taking into account and, eventually, eliminating the waste created by overburden and by uneven workloads. Because Lean began in manufacturing, it’s helpful to think of this principle in terms of the manufacturing process, or a linear assembly line. Let’s say that you oversee a plant that produces car rotors. If Step A in the process takes 30 minutes and Step C in the process takes an hour, you can’t estimate your production based on A or else you’ll cause unnecessary challenges. Step C becomes your constraint.
In the business world, which is often less linear, think about constraints in terms of your most valuable people. Which of your team members complete the most difficult, time-consuming work? Who is the most highly-paid? Who produces higher billable hours? It is likely that these people are your constraints.
Lean Principle #2: Maximize your constraints
At this point, you have to choose which processes to improve, or to maximize, and it makes the most sense to maximize your constraints. In fact, you should go after your biggest constraint first or else all of the improvements you make may have no effect, or even a negative effect, on your end results. Going back to our earlier example from manufacturing, if you find a way to automate part of Step A and get production down to 20 minutes, all you’ve done is create a greater unevenness in workload between Step A and Step C, and most likely slowed down overall production.
In the business world, this means that you need to find ways to maximize your highly-paid or really valuable people. Often, this principle applies the most when creating a custom software solution—we can help you identify tasks that your MVPs are completing that could be codified, automated, or done for less by other people on the team in order to free up their time and unlock their potential.
Maximizing your constraints can lead to exponential rewards and help your company continue to scale and improve in the future. After all, if your Michael Jordan is spending half of his time polishing the parquet floors, your team is never going to win a National Championship.
Lean Principle #3: Move quickly to decisions
Another core tenet of Lean is to spend as little time as possible, and to do as little work as possible, in order to get to the next decision-point. In our business, if we have five coded screens going into design and development on a new custom software application, we will expend the least effort to get to our next logical step, while completing mini tests and experiments along the way. So, for example, we may start with a mock-up to find out what’s working and what isn’t, and to get to a point where we can make a decision about how valuable that information is. This way, we spend half-a-day to get to a key decision point rather than spending a week developing a fully coded screen before figuring out what information is valuable and what information is inconsequential.
Lean promotes progress through finite, measurable, predictable decisions. Ultimately, Lean is a method designed for long-term growth, improvement, and culture change rather than for overhauling everything at one time. Because of this, Lean is usually more approachable, and more sustainable, than other improvement methods.
The core principles of Lean production are a natural fit for custom software development, resulting in better results for our clients time and again. By focusing on the elements of your system that are the most important, and have the most potential to impact your success, problems that may have felt overwhelming at first become much more manageable.
When you are looking to design a software solution, you have to understand the why behind the process in order to give solid guidance on the how. At Kopis, we invest a lot of time studying and understanding not only how to solve problems through software but also how to identify the most important problems in the first place and why following a predictable model matters. We know that Lean works because we use these principles every day to guide our own business practices. Lean principles are so deeply ingrained into who we are and what we do, that we feel confident helping our clients apply the same principles to their crucial business decisions.