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Almost Lean

I recently bumped into a McKinsey report on “Applying lean to application development and maintenance”: (free after registration).

There are some good points in the report, such as cleaning up the prioritization process, cross-training staff, and pushing quality throughout the process. They also recognise that it takes a while to convert, and that it’s important to look at the underlying principles rather than just copy someone else’s practices. The conversion of a large financial institutions sounds like a success (of course) and I’m sure it’s better than what went before.

What they’ve seem to have missed, however, is the people aspect of Lean—that the people who do the work should be intimately involved in improving the process. The tone of the piece sounds like good ol’ Business Process Reengineering. Managers “use” people and “tap offshore resources”, and they intervene when a developer’s work is running late (rather than providing a culture where the developers themselves ask for help).

Another doubtful aspect is the talk of rewards and incentives. Demming was very clear about the perniciousness of linking bonuses to specific targets, but that’s not a shift that’s likely to happen in most financial institutions. It’s also noticeable that the new “incentivized” metrics they proposed were to do with reducing waste, rather than adding value.

Finally (and I know this is only a short piece), they only talk about Lean Production—the perennial application of manufacturing metaphors to software development. There’s some much more relevant material in the Toyota Product Development process that is not recognised widely enough.

In the meantime, we have some Lean Software initiatives in our world that seem to have deeper understanding of Lean’s roots. Apart from “the Poppendiecks”:, David Anderson’s been writing up an interesting application of “Kanban”: to software development

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