What is Lean?



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Lean’s origins are founded in the Toyota Production System (TPS).

Lean in software development was adapted by Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck in their book in 2003. The book restates traditional lean principles based on TPS, establishes a set of 22 tools, and compares the tools to corresponding agile practices. 

Lean ≠ Lean Six Sigma

Lean focuses on value and removing waste. Lean Six Sigma's focus is reducing variability and defects.


Lean comprises seven principles, very close in concept to lean manufacturing principles:

  • Eliminate waste.
  • Amplify learning.
  • Decide as late as possible (last responsible moment).
  • Deliver as fast as possible.
  • Empower the team.
  • Build integrity in.
  • Optimise for the whole.

Lean regards everything not adding value to the customer as waste (Muda). 

  • Partially done work.
  • Extra things the customer hasn’t asked for.
  • Relearning when requirements change.
  • Task switching.
  • Waiting.
  • Handoffs between teams or even individuals.
  • Defects and rework.
  • Management activities.

In order to eliminate waste, teams must be active in looking for it. If some activity could be bypassed or the result could be achieved without it, it is waste. Work that is only partially complete and doesn’t yet meet the Definition of Done is waste. Extra features, like paperwork and features not often used by customers, are waste. Switching people between tasks is waste. Waiting for other activities, teams, processes is waste. Relearning required to complete work is waste. Defects and lower quality are waste. Managerial overhead not producing real value directly related to the customer is waste.

A value stream mapping technique is used to identify waste. The second step is to point out sources of waste and to eliminate them. Waste-removal should take place iteratively until even seemingly essential processes and procedures are removed.

What is Waste?



Learn to identify and reduce waste to increase throughput and flow of the team’s work.



Learn to improve ‘unevenness’ to increase throughput of work.



Learn to improve ‘overburdenning’ the team and its members to increase throughput of work.


  • Learn about Lean’s practices of value, waste and flow in a Retrospective.
  • Use the 1-2-4-All pattern from Liberating Structures to identify the wastes in the last Sprint.
  • Identify one areas of waste to reduce (and remove if possible) next Sprint and put those actions into the Sprint Backlog.
  • Actively work to remove that waste in the Sprint.
  • Assess what happened to waste and why at the Retrospective at the end of the Sprint.


Did quality improve when you removed waste? What did the team do that caused quality to improve or get worse? When did this occur?


Did the number of items that got to Done go up or down? What did the team do that caused this to happen?


Was it easier to see the status of work and progress toward the Sprint Goal? Did stakeholders find it easier to understand these things? Why?


Lean is a strategy for understanding waste and flow. The practices help teams imp[rove productivity through eliminating waste.


  1. Yasuhiro Monden (1998), Toyota Production System, An Integrated Approach to Just-In-Time, Third edition, Norcross, GA: Engineering & Management Press, ISBN 0-412-83930-X.
  2. Poppendieck, M. & Poppendieck, T. (2003). Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. Addison-Wesley Professional. ISBN 978-0-321-15078-3.
  3. Poppendieck, M. : “The role of leadership in software development” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypEMdjslEOI
  4. Poppendieck, M. & Poppendieck, T. (2003). Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. Addison-Wesley Professional. pp. 13–15. ISBN 978-0-321-15078-3.
  5. Poppendieck, M. & Poppendieck, T. (2003). Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. Addison-Wesley Professional. pp. 19–22. ISBN 978-0-321-15078-3.

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