Lean Principle #7 – Optimise The Whole

This content is syndicated from by Kelly Waters. To view the original post in full, click here.

The last of the 7 Key Principles of Lean Software Development is 'Optimise The Whole'.

In their popular book, 'Implementing Lean Software Development',  Mary and Tom Poppendieck explain that the software industry is legendary for its tendency to suboptimise.  They give two examples:

Vicious circle number 1
A customer wants some new features 'yesterday'.
Developers hear: get it done fast, at all costs!
Result: sloppy changes are made to the code.
Complexity  of the code base increases.
Number of defects in the code  increases.

Vicious circle number 2
Testing is overloaded with work.
Result: testing occurs a long time after the code is originally written, or testing is reduced.
Developers don't get immediate feedback, or some things are not properly tested.
There are more defects in the code.
Testers have more work.
Feedback to developers and quality improvements are delayed further.

These vicious circles can ultimately result in an exponential increase in the time it takes to add new features.  They can also result in a notably lower quality product, which affects the end users and ultimately may also affect their efficiency or the competitiveness of the product.

A lean organisation seeks to optimise the whole value stream, not just individual functions or teams.  It is extremely common for big delays in projects and processes - as well as communication issues and misunderstandings leading to other problems - to be caused by handoffs between teams, departments or organisations.  The fact is that crossing organisational boundaries - even internal ones - is expensive.

One of the principles of agile methods that has resulted from this experience is the idea that the best way to organise teams is so they are complete, multi-disciplined, co-located product teams that have all the roles and skills they need to deliver a request from start to finish, without reference to other teams.

Naturally this can be hard to achieve - particularly if you don't have the authority to re-structure your organisation!  That's one of the reasons why sometimes it's important that agile adoption is driven from the top.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that many of the issues we face in traditional IT departments are caused by structuring teams around roles or skills, rather than products or projects.

When a team is organised by product, with everything it needs to deliver, there are some distinct advantages.  Apart from optimising the team's workflow and avoiding some of the issues mentioned above, I have also observed across many teams that when organised like this teams have better ownership of the products they are responsible for, leading to better commitment, quality and innovation.  They also tend to have a stronger sense of team spirit and greater cooperation between team members, as the team is one team with shared goals.

Putting all of this together with the better optmised workflow, the benefits or organising in this way can be extremely significant - not only in terms of the team's performance, but also in terms of the quality of the product, which ultimately can make your organisation more competitive.  And better products can have a direct impact on the bottom line, either by improving internal efficiency, or by earning more revenue from products.


7 Key Principles of Lean Software Development:

1. Eliminate Waste
2. Build Quality In
3. Create Knowledge
4. Defer Commitment
5. Deliver Fast
6. Respect People
7. Optimise The Whole

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two − 1 =

There are 101 ways to do anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”



To explore how we can help you, please get in touch