Debunking the Lean Mystery: How Agile and Lean Really Stack Up in the Plant

Editor's note: What are the best practices in moving data to the clouds? Learn more here!

Every business wants to increase sales -- and the ability to do so is even more vital in today's economy. For companies that are looking to save money on manufacturing, this translates into an imperative to streamline production and build effective project teams to meet the evolving needs of clients. Success becomes visible when project teams maximize quality manufacturing and minimize budgets. Two distinct development methodologies have emerged to produce the most efficient and economic options available for achieving this: lean and agile. The former strictly focuses on value that is realized by waste minimization. The latter is centered on creating more value with less work. But when it comes down to it, which competing model strikes the best possible balance between quality of final projects and cost?


An agile product development approach helps companies achieve aggressive market delivery targets, while maintaining cost structures optimized to current economic conditions. John Zachman, who originated the Zachman Framework, did some of the seminal work that laid the foundation for current best practices in IT process and architecture, from development through architecture and governance. One of John's maxims is that the best analog for building software is manufacturing and that a company should ultimately be able to assemble solutions to order. Service Oriented Architectures and agile processes have made his prediction a reality. Solutions for both discrete and process manufacturing companies have the power to bring manufacturing disciplines to bear in IT. Businesses can extend that capability, and therefore the ability to precisely deliver with high quality solutions, by using these manufacturing concepts.


Lean is a culmination of the best ideas in manufacturing history that came together when Taichii Ohno married Toyota's concepts of workforce empowerment with Henry Ford's production optimization ideas, enabling it to evolve into the iconic manufacturing powerhouse it became. The core of lean is a relentless focus on value that is realized by waste minimization -- eliminating all activities that do not add value. In Japanese, this is called Kaizen, the continuous process improvement, quality, a quest for zero defects -- and the ability to quickly adapt production to value-driven demand (pull processing). Lean principles also include:

  • Waste minimization: Features are defined in close conjunction with colleagues in the field and customers. Ideally, the finished product is reviewed every two weeks to ensure the right thing is being built correctly.

  • Quality: Test-driven development and highly automated testing management build quality into the development process so that a feature is fully tested as it is being built.

  • Kaizen/Continuous Improvement: Agile is fundamentally powered by self-governing teams. Empowered teams naturally strive to improve their processes and collaboration using techniques like retrospectives.

  • Pull processing: Products and features are defined with field experts and tested as they are being produced to provide optimum value to the people who will use them.


In order to harness the power of lean practices, corporations must critically evaluate governance processes and project artifacts to decide if they add value or waste. Most of today's Agile Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) solutions don't support this type of information stream from their tools, as they don't capture the right data, nor capture it in real-time and make it easy for users to pull it out of the system in a way that makes sense for their business. This lack of real-time operational information hinders executives and makes it difficult for them to make critical decisions about the business, such as which projects to continue or kill, and which projects will deliver real value. Companies must be able to leverage lean and agile to achieve a fast, flexible and resilient delivery process, yielding high speed-to-market [results] at a low cost.

An ideal solution that combines lean and agile would:

  • Measure true ROI: ALM solutions in the cloud measure the impact of continuous improvement initiatives by tracking improvements in overall throughput, velocity and cycle time. More organizations will be able to measure dollars returned for dollars spent because ALM solutions will better support attaching dollar benefit values to features rather than just business cases.

  • Enable real-time visibility within and between teams: Agile development requires all team members to share near-real time visibility into the status of features and commitments. ALM tools need to set up virtual team rooms that radiate needed progress information, and support the team members' natural signaling. This becomes even more critical for remote teams who need to effectively work together across time zones and geographies. This is an imperative, for teams spanning various countries and continents.

  • Provide the right information in the right format: Analytical databases that are hosted in the cloud enable companies to build the rollup and drilldown reports unique to their business, avoiding the limits of out-dated canned reports provided by other vendors that can't deliver the insights needed to confidently redeploy resources and investments as needed. Having a data warehouse in the cloud makes it easier for organizations to manipulate and consume critical organizational information.

Using a network-based agile process management system provides visibility into the progress of all of our product lines. A cloud-based solution gives even greater benefits with a global, current view that is vital to effectively managing and coordinating multiple teams. By reviewing progress in real time, managers can understand what has been accomplished while concurrently looking forward at the elements that remain in the backlog and make an accurate assessment on delivery. In a lean environment, businesses can stay on top of backlogs and ensure that we are elaborating stories in a timely manner. The end result is a rewarding work environment that yields a high level of success.

About the Author

Alan MacLamroc is the Chief Product & Technology Officer for CDC Software. In his role, he is responsible for global IT for the organization, as well as all products for the company, including technology strategy, product marketing, product management, software engineering, quality assurance, performance, and systems integration.

More by Alan MacLamroc