Lean, Lean, Lean — Lean is dead — I cannot bear it any longer!

Anger is a good motivator for writing and when you are angry then you know that you are passionate about a specific topic. During the last 12 months the new buzz-word in the agile world is “lean”.  Maybe Mary Poppendieck has done a great job and now she earns the fruits. But besides the fact, that we have similar principles in Scrum than the ones Ohno has implemented, Scrum has nothing to do with lean management.

No – I do not agree with Jeff, that we must have the “Toyota Way” with us when we talk to Senior executives. The basic ideas of Ohno and Deming are 50 years old and they have been applied in the manufacturing industry very well. In Germany “Just-In-Time” was implemented in the manufacturing industry 10 years ago. It was the hype. And — now the big car manufactures are looking for the next solution.  Why — It did not help them: GM is still losing money. Why will it help software developers?

We need to look at different organizations from those of the car manufactures. Mary does a great job, but she rephrases her insights from the end of the 90s again and again. Lean Management was created for CAR BUILDERS!!!!!! The whole mantra of removing waste – yes! Sure this makes sense. But only if I already have processes!

Software development organizations consist of very well educated, knowledgeable SPECIALISTS who need to work together. A shop floor is not an environment in which knowledgeworker = specialists work together. They are specialist but not high skilled.

The old famous authors: Frederick Brooks, Peter Drucker and others lead us in the right direction. Lee Devin has shown in “Artful Making” how an organization of knowledge workers will work. So – please let’s not repeat the mistake of looking into the car industry. It was wrong in 1968, it was wrong in 1990 and it is wrong in 2008.

Look into modern, hyper-productive, hyper-flexible, high quality delivery organizations:

Hospitals, Theaters, Movie Industry and and and – But not into the manufacturing business.

Btw – this is not only my idea. Have a look into the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. The business around us is running faster than we are.

Lean is dead!


5 responses to “Lean, Lean, Lean — Lean is dead — I cannot bear it any longer!

  1. We don’t use the practices from lean manufacturing.

    We use principles and values.

    Heijunka, Stop the Line Culture, Just in Time production, Focus on value from the customer perspective and so on.

    You said:
    “But besides the fact, that we have similar principles in Scrum than the ones Ohno has implemented, Scrum has nothing to do with lean management.”

    True. We from Agile look for the principles and values from that. That’s our Agile Manifesto. That’s where we have our principles and values.

    That’s it.

    The way we manage the “production” is using BurnDown charts and velocity metrics. They use Kanbans for instance to help. But hey, we can use Kanbans too! 🙂
    We use Retrospective meetings for our improvement cycle. They use Kaizen events. What about that? So, we can’t forget that. Kaizen events are great.

    And what about the principles we have inside Scrum, from where they came from? Not from the sky for sure! So we cannot forget authors from the past, we cannot forget about Deming (who taught the Shewhart cycle – PDCA), Drucker and we cannot forget about Ohno and Shingo!

    About “GM is still losing money” thing, well, that will also happen with software development companies that uses Scrum Practices but don’t follow Agile Values and Principles. Just like that. They don’t have the culture needed. And that’s the main problem going to Agile.

    Remember that using Agile is not going to make you stop failing.
    The only thing is that your team will start to fail faster.

    Again, the culture needs to change.

  2. I appreciate your passion, but I’d like to understand better what your qualms are with lean. What, specifically, it is that you think is bad about lean? What practices/principles are we attempting to apply to software development that just don’t work right for software?

    (Daniel – great comment, BTW!)

  3. Pingback: scrum, agile and lean

  4. I can’t resist 🙂

    >Look into modern, hyper-productive, hyper-flexible, high quality >delivery organizations:
    >Hospitals, […]


  5. If you think there are no “highly skilled” people on a factory floor, then I’m guessing you haven’t worked in a factory.

    Lean methods *do* work in healthcare — a place that has no shortage of the “highly skilled.”

    I’ve worked in both setting, as well as a software company. There are “highly skilled” in every setting.

    Also, the fact that GM has been losing money forever shouldn’t be an indictment of Lean — it’s bad management at GM, plain and simple.

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