Mary and Tom Poppendieck on the Seven Principles of Lean Software Development

“Requires a change in culture that some companies can’t achieve, those that have achieved massive performance improvements”

A summary of the principles from the Poppendieck’s momentus book Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit

The 7 Principles

Eliminate Waste – coding more features than required, handoffs, low or no value documents (shelfware), defering of decisions

Build Quality In – this also encompasses integrity which is wise leadership, communication, healthy discipline, relevant expertise.  This can’t be replaced by processes, procedures and measurements.  Technical practices like  Test Driven Development (TDD), Continuous Integration, Definition of Done assist.  UX design helps the customer attain a feeling of perceived integrity.  Supple architecture allows the system to gracefully grow.

Create Knowledge – also known as Amplify Learning.  This is where Lean for Software differs from Lean Manufacturing.  Development is a constant learning exercise in discovery.  There is an expectation that mistakes will be made but we learn from them and make the adjustments.  Learnings should be shared e.g. in a showcase, in a retrospective.  Feedback loops are present throughout.

Defer Commitment – also known as Last Responsible Moment in Lean Manufacturing.   Delaying decisions can be valuable because more information is available.  In Agile this means detailed story development is deferred, design and implementation should occur when it’s needed at not before hand.

Deliver Fast – To enable feedback to occur.  Also smaller batches reduces errors inherent in large batch work because of the missing feedback loop.  Compression the value stream helps here – i.e. eliminate or reduce wait time.

Respect People –  people on the coalface backed with good leadership are best placed to combine knowledge of the technical with the requirements of the customers.  It will lead to excellence and morale will go up markedly.  There is a wisdom in Crowds/Group Expertise

Optimize the Whole – the common good can suffer when people attend only to their specialization. Therefore this should not be measured at this level as it promotes sub optimization.  It will hurt the system overall.


5 responses to “Mary and Tom Poppendieck on the Seven Principles of Lean Software Development

  • Joshua Partogi

    Hi Nick,

    Do you think this book is recommended to learn about Lean? I’ve heard from several people that Mary got the concept of Lean wrong. What do you think?

    • Nick

      Thanks for the comment Josh

      That’s the first I heard of such a comment. I found it useful myself – but I’m not a lean expert either.

      Would like to know what the specific criticisms are though?

      I wonder if there is hair splitting going on – I would like to think that the overall ethos is correct.

    • Nick

      Bertrand Meyer has made some comments recently. Is this one person you’re referring to?

    • Nick

      Hi Josh

      I wonder if there is a little bit of academic and professional rivalry going on. I was at the Agile Adria Conference in April and Gabriel Steinhardth was putting the boots into Scrum (mostly the PO role) and Agile. Mary was in agreement as was Tom Gilb.

  • Nick

    The principles and the call to change culture are by themselves platitudes. You can try by being lean without this call. Culture change is not a prerequisite as it can be pulled rather than pushed. I willing leadership is still important. Leaders go first, otherwise they aren’t leaders.

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