Why Lean Now?

December 2, 2007 — Posted by Al Shalloway

I was recently asked:

"Can you tell me, if you would, why Lean is coming to the forefront in your practices at this time? Is is simply a continuation of your ongoing research? Or does it fill some gap that you've detected in Scrum (the way it was formerly taught). Or: are customers more interested in Lean concepts, for some reason? "

There isn't an easy, or perhaps, I should say, short answer to this. However, given that I am heading out to SQE's Agile Development Practices Conference in the morning, I will give as good a short answer as I can.

I've been doing Lean for several years, so it's not really coming to the forefront in my practice just now. It probably looks that way because I've both been more vocal about it and my company (Net Objectives) has been working with more and more teams with Lean methods. I've been more vocal recently because I have seen many teams under the impression that Scrum is all they have to do, when in fact, it isn't. As good as Scrum is, it doesn't address many issues that are beyond the team and beyond projects. I would say about half of our practice is now helping teams who have started with Scrum and recognize they need some help. On the corporate front, we've been working with several Enterprise wide accounts where we've been seeing a great need for Lean principles to enhance Scrum practices. Scrum is a great team/project process, but doesn't deal directly with many Enterprise issues. The Lean principles on which Scrum is based can be more directly applied to Enterprises than the Scrum practices themselves. In particular, the lean principle of optimizing the whole and the practice of value stream mapping provides much greater insights than Scrum's "Scrum of Scrums".

Customers are also becoming more aware of the need for Lean. Many companies are dealing with legacy code which makes standard agile development not possible. Lean insights can be very useful here. In many cases, agile practices of the team are often important, but not the primary impediment to creating business value. We have seen many cases where after removing the primary impediment to development, agile methods are the next step to undertake. However, knowing when to undertake Scrum is often just as important as knowing how to do it.

In addition to all of this, Lean goes beyond software. It includes the attitude of where do you look when things go wrong. In incorporates the need for systems thinking, not just people thinking. This is required if you are going to change the culture of an organization.

In closing, I want to be clear that I think Scrum is great. Obviously so, since Net Objectives, of which I am CEO, is probably the largest Agile training company in the world. I admit I've set myself up for being misunderstood by pointing out the limitations of Scrum. But in this area I am referring to Scrum's scope. Scrum is fabulous for what it attempts to do. But what it attempts to do (a focus on teams and projects) is not sufficient for Enterprise adoption.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.



        

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