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The 7 Principles of Lean Software Developmentby@olgagalik
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The 7 Principles of Lean Software Development

by Olga Galik March 1st, 2023
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Lean software development is an approach to software development that is aimed at delivering maximum value by optimizing resources and processes. Tom and Mary Poppendieck first adapted lean principles for Software in their famous book published in 2003. At its core, lean development seeks to minimize wastage and maximize productivity.
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Businesses worldwide could use better software or, more precisely, principles that guarantee better software development.

Global estimates are that bad codes cost companies around $85 billion annually and 42 percent of developers’ time.

Unsurprisingly, developers are always seeking better ways to software—lean software development is one of the most effective approaches.

Lean principles in software development take after the lean manufacturing concept originally started by Toyota in the 1970s.

For some time now, these principles have been applied to mobile app development to great success. This piece serves as an introduction to these principles.

What Is Lean Software Development?

Lean software development is an approach to software development that is aimed at delivering maximum value by optimizing resources and processes.

Tom and Mary Poppendieck first adapted lean principles for Software in their famous book published in 2003.

They outlined seven core principles that have formed the basis for practicing the lean philosophy in software development.

At its core, lean development seeks to minimize wastage and maximize productivity. Therein lies its main advantage too.

The principle empowers developers to reduce wastages in form of redundant codes, repetitive tasks, and needless documentation.

By promoting efficiency, lean principles reduce software development costs and time-to-market. In addition, it boosts motivation among team members by encouraging communication.

At this point, I’d like to point out that lean software development is a principle and not a project management method.

Although people often count it among software development methods, it is notably different in practice.

Lean development is more like a set of principles we apply to software creation than a step-by-step guide we follow during the project. As a result, lean development principles can be applied in parts and can be integrated with other software development methods your team uses.

Agile lean principles, for instance, combines agile development and lean principles in a system that minimizes waste while maximizing value.

Next, we discuss the principles and objectives of lean software development.

The Seven Principles of Lean Software Development

1. Eliminate Waste

By waste, we mean anything that does not add value to the product yet takes away the resources. Some examples of waste are:

  •  Low-quality codes that need rewriting
  • Partially complete work that will never be completed
  • Unnecessary code, features, and functions
  • Changing requirements, task switching, ineffective communication, and 
  • Unnecessary meetings and bureaucracy

The idea is to eliminate any activity that interferes with giving the most value to the customer at a given time. Identify and eliminate processes that do not add value to the product.

2. Build Quality In

Quality or integrity is a core element of lean development. Integrity indicators could be perceived as a user interface, which is visible to the customer, or conceptual like the software’s responsiveness, efficiency, and flexibility.

Lean philosophy prescribes that software problems be addressed as they arise, not later. It supports a streamlined testing process, short iterations, and regular code refactoring to ensure quality and avoid over-testing.

3. Create Knowledge

It is crucial to create and retain knowledge to avoid relearning or creating the wrong features—both scenarios that interfere with value addition and negates the lean philosophy.

Knowledge could be expertise in certain technologies or a better understanding of user needs.

Lean development encourages teams to establish customer feedback systems, knowledge bases and code repositories, avenues for training and knowledge sharing, pair programming, and peer code review.

4. Defer Commitment

This lean development principle says that developers should wait as late as possible before making critical development decisions.

This is because requirements and priorities are constantly changing along with new customer feedback, new technologies, competing products, etc.

You don’t want to be limited by decisions you made too soon, earlier in the development. Also, make broader plans with ample room for changes.

5. Deliver Fast

Delivering software as fast as possible has the key advantage of faster customer feedback.

Instead of piling up features that the user may eventually turn down, focus on releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) and test assumptions early on.

When developers prioritize speed, they follow result-oriented processes that save time and money while developing the right product.

6. Respect People

Lean philosophy asks calls for respect for team members, ultimately empowering teams to perform at their peak. Allow team members to share ideas and encourage regular communication among teams.

Also, trust people with responsibilities and recognize good performance. A healthy environment built on this principle will promote creativity and prevent burnout.

7. Optimize the Whole

This lean principle encourages development teams to look at the big picture when creating value for the user.

By taking a broader view, developers are able to identify possible areas of wastage while working on an aspect of the project.

For instance, a new feature in a mobile app may increase the complexity of the code base, making it harder to add new features in the future.

This drawback may not be noticed if the team focuses solely on shipping the new feature without a holistic view. Ensure all team members understand the projects' main aspects and their related aspects.

Also, ensure that the strategies and development processes are communicated within the team. 

Summary

The seven lean software development principles empower development teams to build products that meet customer needs—maximizing value and minimizing waste.

Pulling this off requires a team of highly-skilled developers and a system for detailed documentation. It is people who make it work.