Planning is too important for the beginning of a project
The Lean / Agile Connection Part 2

The Lean / Agile Connection Part 1

Baseline magazine recently published an interesting article entitled “Business Process Management: What's Driving Toyota?” that profiled Toyota’s lean projection system.

In the article they list six management tools for creating excellence in the workplace. Agile methods utilize many of the same lean principles from the Toyota Production System. In the following list I have augmented agile project management interpretations on the Baseline descriptions of their key practices.

1. Just-in-time: Toyota employs one of the most sophisticated supply chain systems in manufacturing, working closely with suppliers to ensure that parts arrive just when needed.

Agile Interpretation – in agile projects the elaboration of (non-architecturally significant) requirements is delayed until the last responsible moment. There is no point building up large inventories of detailed requirements and then handing them over, in large batches, to downstream activities. First of all, many of the requirements may change or go away completely before they are coded. This would be pure waste (muda), plus large batch transfers are inefficient and cause queues, and increased levels of scrap and rework.

2. Jidoka: At every stage of the assembly line, Toyota employs devices allowing workers to stop production to correct defects.

Agile Interpretation – Automated build and unit test systems that stop and alert the team if ever a code check-in breaks the build or unit test suite. Multi-disciplined developers pay closer attention to quality via techniques such as TDD. Team members can raise “blocking issues” at the daily standup.

3. Kaizen: This is a system for continuous improvement. Toyota constantly looks to improve its business processes by finding ways to take Muda (waste) out of the system

Agile Interpretation – At iteration retrospectives meetings the team is asked: What went well?, What did not go well? Recommendations for the next iteration? The intent is to improve the process within this project. Lessons Learned at the end of a project is frankly, too little, too late. Issues raised at the Daily Stand-up Meeting are often pointers to things that need improvement. Agile projects are always actively looking for how to improve the process during its execution.

4. Andons: Wherever possible, Toyota uses visual controls, or Andons, such as overhead displays, plasma screens and electronic dashboards to quickly convey the state of work.

Agile Interpretation – Agile metrics use clear visual controls over percent plan complete type measures. Information radiators, cumulative flow diagrams, burn down charts, To-Do / In progress / Done boards. These are all great examples of Andons in practice.

5. PokaYokes: Toyota uses a range of these low-cost, highly reliable devices throughout its operations to prevent defects.

Agile Interpretation - Build status traffic lights and lava lamps, anything simple yet hard to ignore, that helps alert the team to defects that need fixing.

6. Genchi Genbutsu: The literal translation of this term is, "Go and see for yourself." Rather than hear about a problem, Toyota requires its workers, team leaders and executives to go and see a problem directly and to work collectively on a solution.

Agile Interpretation – Again, Daily Stand-up Meetings are a great way to go and hear the issues from the horse's-mouth rather than interpret trends from tracking Gantt charts. Regular releases of working software are excellent ways of assessing progress and defects; go try it and see for yourself.

Mary Poppendieck writes extensively on the lean / agile connection. She is in town again tomorrow night, talking at the Calgary Agile Methods User Group (CAMUG) on “Beyond Agile Software Development: Becoming Lean”. I’ll add a post about her presentation after tomorrow’s event.


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