Do “more with less.” This is a common mantra in business. But it’s actually not the best advice. At least, not as advice on what to do. It’s what you should achieve, however, if you use Lean-Thinking and do less with more.
This is a fundamental paradigmatic difference between Lean and other methods. It is not about directly improving what you do as much as it is about removing waste. These are not the same. Let me illustrate. When you focus on improving what you do you ask – “how could I have done this better?” In eliminating waste you might ask “did I need to do this at all?”
Lean is a relentless, continuous, never ending focus on waste reduction. It is based on the belief (proven over the last 5-6 decades) that doing less waste results in greater speed to market and lower cost. In the software world, waste shows up mostly in the form of delays, rework, doing unneeded work, and multi-tasking. Lean tells us to focus on avoiding these forms of waste instead of focusing on how to do our work better. Clearly, if we don’t have to wait for information (one form of delay), don’t have to do something twice, don’t do things we don’t need and focus on one thing at a time, we’ll both work better and have higher quality work.
One way to eliminate waste is to see what slows you down and then remove it. Scrum’s classic mandate of finding impediments and removing them follows this approach. But not all waste is something you can readily see. Waste is often just thought of as "just the way it is" – so the impediment may not be visible, or the root cause may not be obvious. It’s often like “air to the birds and water to the fish.” We have seen organizations drowning in impediments that management did not consciously see as impediments or understand their cause. While often accused of accommodating the impediments, the reality was they weren’t aware of them.
Lean fortunately doesn’t just tell you to eliminate waste by “inspecting and adapt” behavior. It gives you an entire set of tools – value stream mapping, utilization theory, Lean-Management, … These tools focus on fast-flexible-flow from the beginning of the value stream until the end (concept to consumption). This means limiting work to capacity throughout the development pipeline. Pulling from a backlog to limit work to the team is good, but it is only one spot along the pipeline. If product managers are jamming more and more stuff down the pipeline then teams may maintain their efficiency by proper use of product backlogs with Scrum but the pipelines are still jammed from the overloading that is occurring way upstream.
So where is the more in “less with more”? The more is “more of the organization.” Actually, all of it (the entire pipeline actually). When considering how to do less, one must optimize the whole – consider the entire value stream. Look for waste, root it out. Doing so will typically require/result in improving quality, lowering time to market and lowering waste. What you focus on can have a huge impact on what you do.
CEO, Net Objectives, Achieving Enterprise Agility