Lean and Agile in three pictures

Recently I attended a ”Lean Coffee”-meeting hosted by the magnificent @hakanforss. At the meeting there was a person that described their situation with one team of four developers serving the needs from four different product owners. She explained the situation as scattered (”spretig” in Swedish). This made me reflect of our situation that is similar and how Lean and Agile fits into that picture. It’s also said that a picture says more than a thousand words. So here is a blog post ”worth” more than reading 3000 words 🙂

Process with bottlenecks


This a generic picture describing a process. Requests come in to one end of the process and deliveries go out of the outer. Inside the process a number of value adding steps take place. If the process doesn’t add any value, these is no reason for its existence. All processes have limitations in the form of bottlenecks. The ”most narrow” bottleneck determines the throughput of the whole process. One key concept in Lean is kaizen that means you should work with continuous improvements to your process. When one bottleneck is ”fixed” another will be the ”most narrow”, hence you need to continue your kaizen efforts that never ends. The process is the most valuable thing a company have, more valuable than its products and services (that will come and go over time). Improvements to your process hopefully stay forever!

”What we do to the process, echoes into eternity” – LeanGladiator

Sadly, my experiences from the software development industry is that we care more of what we do (our products and services that are somewhat volatile), then how we do it (our process that will eventually define company success in the long run). Hopefully this can change to the latter in the software industry.

Common situation


This is the situation that I think we share with a lot of other companies. Focus is scattered ”all over the place” (as the Swedish prince Daniel said) on a number of different products and services that the company provides. We tend to do a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, not to ”loose out” on something that could be ”the big thing”. Since we are doing many things at once we become too ”thin” and all the context switching between tasks makes us produce less and less actual value. Not been able to predict when things ”can be done”, we have to start things earlier to increase the work in process even more. You end up in a vicious circle…

In fact, the lack of focus makes it more likely to be unsuccessful. In the ”Steve Jobs”-biography written by Walter Isaacson there is a section that tells about an offsite meeting with all executives at Apple. If I remember correctly, the executives had like 100 different ideas that they thought would be ”the next big thing” and they wanted the company to support and finance. Comparing the ideas against each other and discussing them during days of meetings (I can imagine a lot of egos rubbing against each other) they finally boiled it down to three. The benefits was that the whole company now was behind those three ideas, and the focus they got was tremendous.

What we want to achieve


This is what we want to achieve:

  • Streamline our business to focus on fewer things (i.e., have less work in progress) and thereby increase throughput and shorten lead times.
  • Kaizen, continuous improvement to the process to handle the bottlenecks.

We want to deliver smaller increments (time wize) that faster bring continuous value to our customers.


How do we do it? For many organizations a shift in mindset is needed. Today we tend to focus on high resource efficiency (people to be busy at all times). Opposite to high resource efficiency we have high flow efficiency (work moves fast through the process). What we must do is to temporarily ease the focus on resource efficiency, get ”slack” (resources becomes available) so that flow is prioritized and then improve your process (kaizen) so that resources can work more efficient.

My favorite presentation on this topic is ”The Busy Bee Paradox” by Håkan Forss.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s