What Are the Lean-Agile Principles?

Lean-Agile Principles

There is not one rigid methodology or management process that eliminates waste entirely or can work for problem-solving against all problems and uncertainties. That is why Lean, Agile, and even Scrum (an implementation framework of Agile) are approaches more than methodologies, and they have us follow a certain set of principles.

Since people are key contributors to any successful project implementation, their interaction is essential to a project’s success. In its 12 principles, the Agile Manifesto explains how everyone should behave in a company. The understanding of Agile principles is critical to grasp the agile way of project management. The Lean Agile transformation at an organization level applies agile principles and lean management, known as Lean-Agile principles. These principles were developed to help organizations that are responding to change and feeling the pressures of having to deliver as fast as possible and decide as late as possible.

What are the Lean-Agile Principles?

Lean-Agile principles form an economic concept that informs the role and practices of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). The SAFe methodology is an agile framework for product development teams. Built on three pillars (Team, Program, and Portfolio), it is designed to give flexibility to a team and help manage the challenges larger companies struggle with when practicing Agile.

There are ten main Lean-Agile principles that can help in effective organization management. The chief motive of these principles is to gain knowledge about the existence of uncertainty in complex systems. Lean-Agile principles are important because they easily allow the creation of enterprise-class software. They improve the team’s productivity, employee engagement, time to market, and the quality of the end solution.

What makes the Lean-Agile mindset is a combination of attitudes, assumptions, actions, and beliefs of Scaled Agile Framework practitioners and leaders who embrace the concept of Lean thinking and the Agile Manifesto. It is the cornerstone of enhanced company culture and a new management approach that enables Business Agility. Agile, Lean, DevOps, and systems thinking are the four bodies of knowledge in which SAFe is firmly grounded.

Importance of Focusing on Lean-Agile Principles

One of the most important and complex challenges that enterprises face today is building cyber-physical systems and lean software. The organizations that build these systems are also becoming increasingly sophisticated – distributed multinational and multilingual development, mergers and acquisitions, rapid growth, and offshoring are part of the solution, but they are also part of the problem. Thankfully, there’s a growing body of knowledge that can help enterprises deal with such challenges. The body of knowledge includes Lean systems thinking, Lean processes, Agile principles and methods, and product development flow practices.

The primary aim of SAFe is to synthesize all the knowledge along with the lessons learned from thousands of deployments in order to create a system of proven and integrated practices that improve team productivity, time-to-market, employee engagement, and solution quality. However, there’s no universal one-size-fits-all solution for the unique challenges that each organization faces. If any applied practices fall short, the underlying Lean-Agile principles can guide the teams and ensure that they’re moving on the path to their Lean goals.

The Ten Principles of Lean-Agile

There are 10 fundamental lean and agile principles that have evolved from observation of successful organizations, Lean product development, Agile methods and principles, and systems thinking. Let’s take a closer look at the ten “commandments” of Lean-Agile.

1. Applying systems thinking

It is necessary to understand the systems within which users and workers operate to be able to address the challenges in the marketplace and workplace. However, those systems are complex and consist of numerous interrelated components. You cannot optimize the whole system just by optimizing one component – everyone involved must be on the same page and understand the system’s larger goal. Systems thinking needs to be applied to the organization that builds the system, as well as to the system under development.

2. Taking an economic view

You need to have a fundamental understanding of the economics of building systems in order to deliver the best quality and value for society and people in the shortest sustainable lead-time. Every right decision eliminates waste and must be made in the right economic context, and every team contributor must be aware of the monetary impact of the decisions they take in developing a product. The economic view can be achieved by delivering often and delivering early, operating within the lean budget, understanding solution economic trade-off, leveraging suppliers, and sequencing jobs for yielding maximum benefits.

3. Assume variability and preserve option

To refine the management process and variability in future iterations, you must accept the current variability and re-examine the requirement points. Traditional life cycle and design practices encourage choosing a single design-and-requirement option early in the development process. However, if that proves to be the wrong choice, any future adjustments will take too long, leading to a suboptimal design. To keep different options open, you should follow a set-based design approach by developing a more expansive cast at the beginning of the iterative development process (the Lean-Agile principles will create room for adding design options in the future). Then, use the empirical data to narrow the focus, which will result in a design that creates the most optimal economic outcomes.

4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

When increments are built in a series of short iterations, and end-users are allowed to view them, this allows for faster customer feedback and helps reduce risk. Because the system always runs, every increment will add on and behave as a prototype, enabling market testing and valuation. All integration points will create data (even from uncertainties), the points occur intentionally, and they provide insight into the technical possibilities of the current design selection. For complex systems, these integration points can be used to verify whether every system’s capability meets its responsibility.

5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems

The Agile method and principles of Lean help break down the traditional model to a set-based design. The increments are built quickly with an integrated learning cycle, so there is a milestone involved at every point. Customers, developers, and business owners all have a shared responsibility to ensure the investment in new products will deliver economic benefits. The sequential development model was designed to meet this challenge, but what empirical data shows is that it doesn’t mitigate risk as intended. With lean principles and agile practices implemented in development, integration points also serve as goal milestones at which the solution is evaluated throughout the development lifecycle. Regular evaluation provides the technical and financial governance required to assure that further investment will produce a proportional ROI.

6. Visualize and limit WIP; reduce batch size, and manage queue length

Lean organizations strive to achieve a state of continuous flow, limit WIP, and shorten queue lengths. In that state, new system capabilities move visibly and quickly from concept to cash. Therefore, WIP must be made visible to all stakeholders so they can balance it with the development. Ultimately, work in progress must be limited by reducing the size of the work because reduced batch size can be processed quickly and with more stability.

To achieve a state of continuous flow, you need to let the team and the backlogs be non-committal and short, set a WIP limit for each step in the process, and don’t get tempted with long-term commitments (because it will decrease the agility of your enterprise).

7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning

Cadence provides a rhythm for development and predictability. By using regular cadence, you can prevent variance accumulation and enable small batch sizes. Thanks to synchronization, you will be able to understand, resolve, and integrate multiple perspectives simultaneously. Applying development synchronization and cadence (and coupling it with periodic cross-domain planning), you will get the mechanisms that allow the enterprise to operate effectively in the presence of any development uncertainty.

Cadence brings benefits such as:

  • Giving input about the scheduled integration points
  • Converting unpredictable events into predictable events, which reduces cost
  • Allowing regular coordination and planning with cross-functional domains
  • Providing a rhythm for developing, which creates predictability
  • Predicting the waiting time of new work
8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

Extrinsic motivators alone, such as monetary compensation, can’t motivate your knowledge workers. It may even lead to internal competition and defeat the purpose of unity, which is necessary to achieve the large aims of the system. Lean-Agile leaders need to understand that employee engagement, innovation, and ideation aren’t generally motivated by incentive compensation. What you should do is minimize constraints, provide purpose and autonomy, and create an environment of mutual influence. Such an approach yields better outcomes for the enterprise, individuals, and customers.

9. Decentralize decision-making

Decentralized decision-making leads to improvements in development flow, delay reductions, faster feedback, and achieving fast value delivery. However, some decisions are global, strategic, and have economies of scale that require centralized decision-making. Because both types of decisions co-exist, a critical step in ensuring a fast flow of value and empowering employees is creating a reliable decision-making framework.

10. Organize around value

Many modern companies are organized around old principles developed during the 20th century. Most of them are organized around functional expertise based on individuals and interactions. However,  in today’s digital age, the speed with which an enterprise can respond to its customers’ needs with innovative solutions is the only sustainable competitive advantage. To achieve agile delivery or deliver more quickly, Business Agility requires that companies organize around value, and when customer and market demands change, the company should be able to seamlessly and quickly reorganize around the new value flow. To make a value-based organization that builds quality products, you should first rethink the organization and understand the flow of value. Next, realize value streams with agile teams and trains, collect the value streams into a portfolio, and reorganize based on the values.

The SAFe journey begins with education, training, and an iterative approach to integrate the principles of Lean and Agile methodology. The place to start is the i4 Group – a transformation consulting and agile training firm that is here to amplify learning and empower the team your company counts on to continuously improve, deliver fast, and build integrity and customer value.

Sign up your leadership stakeholders, program managers, and core change agents to be trained in SAFe and the concepts it is based on. Once they’ve been trained and understand the journey, they will be able to work with experts and design a transformation roadmap for the enterprise. Learn about implementing lean management values and principles that allow you to adapt to changing requirements of your industry.

Source: Lean-Agile Principles

Sign up for our Newsletter