Principles of Lean Software Development

Date Published: 20 October 2023

Principles of Lean Software Development

Lean Software Development is an agile project management and product development framework that originated from Lean manufacturing principles. It focuses on delivering value to the customer by optimizing resources, workflows, and processes. Below is a breakdown of its core principles:

1. Eliminate Waste

The first principle of Lean Software Development is to eliminate waste, a concept borrowed from the Lean manufacturing world where it is known as "muda." In software development, waste could be anything from writing unnecessary code to excessive meetings that don't add value. The goal is to streamline the workflow by identifying and removing anything that doesn't contribute to the end product or the customer's needs.

2. Amplify Learning

Learning is an integral part of software development. The principle of amplifying learning emphasizes that the team should always be in a state of continuous learning. Whether it's through code reviews, feedback loops, or training, this principle suggests that a better-informed team produces a higher quality product. Practices like Domain-Driven Design (DDD) help the team focus on learning and properly modeling the business domain.

3. Decide as Late as Possible

Making decisions too early can lead to rework if those decisions turn out to be incorrect. Lean advises you to defer decision-making until the last responsible moment. This allows the team to have the most amount of information and context before making a decision, thus reducing the likelihood of costly mistakes.

4. Deliver as Fast as Possible

Speed and efficiency are key in Lean Software Development. This principle focuses on delivering a functional product to the customer as quickly as possible. It is not about rushing but about finding the optimal flow that allows for quick delivery without sacrificing quality. An important metric teams can track to determine their delivery speed is cycle time (and possibly lead time).

5. Empower the Team

In Lean Software Development, a motivated and empowered team is considered more effective and agile. Empowering the team involves giving them the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their tasks. This creates a sense of responsibility among team members, enhancing their performance and productivity.

6. Build Integrity In

Quality should not be an afterthought; it should be integrated into the product from the beginning. Building integrity in means creating a system that is robust, maintainable, and adaptable from the get-go. This requires a commitment to excellence from every team member at every stage of the development process.

7. Optimize the Whole

Lean principles stress the importance of looking at the development process as a cohesive whole. Rather than focusing solely on individual tasks or modules, it's crucial to understand how each element fits into the larger picture. By optimizing the whole system rather than its parts, you can ensure that the overall process is as efficient as possible.

Remember, "a system that produces defects is a defective system." -- Jeffrey Palermo. Build quality into the whole process and catch problems before they leave the process.

Learn more about the basics of Kanban, which relates closely to these principles, in my Kanban: Getting Started Pluralsight course.


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Steve Smith

About Ardalis

Software Architect

Steve is an experienced software architect and trainer, focusing on code quality and Domain-Driven Design with .NET.