Lean is not a tactic or a cost-reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting. Lean thinking puts forward the idea of all of the processes forming a value stream, like a water stream, creating value that keeps flowing downstream to the customer as quickly as is sustainably possible with as few eddies, dams, or other wasteful slow downs or stops due to obstacles. The short list is:

  • Identify the current customer Value.

  • Visualize the whole product development process (value stream).

  • Reduce Waste along entire value streams.

  • Create Flow ( Batch Size Reduction).

  • Establish Pull (Just-In-Time Production).

  • Respect People.

  • Amplify Learning (we use Scrum Retrospectives).

  • Seek Perfection ( Kaizen, or get a little better each iteration).

  • Lead Lean.

The following longer list includes some clarification about what is meant by each principle.

Clarification of each Principle

Although readers experienced with Lean may perhaps find this next section repetitive, we include it for those in the training profession that are new to Lean because really grasping the principles is crucial to the effective use of Lean-Agile and tailoring your methods to fit your requirements. This section clarifies what is meant by each Lean principle.


Identify current customer Value

  • The customer will pay for it.

  • Perform work right the first time.

  • Specify value from the perspective of the end-customer.

  • Create more value for customers with fewer resources.

  • The customer changes over time, what satisfies them now may not later.

Value Stream

Visualize the whole product development process (value stream).

  • Figure out how the work gets done.

  • Use visual boards to display necessary status and progress information at a glance.

  • Optimize communication with frequent (daily) short (15 min) scrum/standup meetings in combination with the visual Kanban board.

  • Use visual signals and cues.

  • Anyone can see work in process (WIP) easily if they have access to the Kanban board.

  • Align the team through simple visual communication.

  • Apply queuing theory, see later section on [queuingTheory].[1]

  • Visual project management has been described as the ability to understand the status of a project in 5 minutes or less by simple observation without speaking to anyone.


Reduce Waste along entire value streams.

  • Recognize the types of waste Lean identifies.

  • Whenever possible, eliminate those steps that do not create value.

  • Develop processes that require less capital, physical space, human performance and time.

  • Create the ability to respond to changing customer value quickly at low cost.

  • Make information management much easier and more correct.

  • Establish value as seen by the customer to distinguish value added from waste.


Create Flow ( Batch Size Reduction).

  • Create flow by reducing and eliminating waste.

  • Deliver as quickly as possible.

  • Interruptions in the process steps degrades the flow of buyer/customer value in the value stream—To achieve smooth flow, reduce interruptions.

  • Too much work in process (WIP) creates delay waste due to context switching.

  • Reduce batch sizes to reduce the amount of WIP inventory.

  • Cycle time is almost directly proportional to the amount of WIP. Multitasking is an illusion.

  • Smaller batch sizes shorten the overall production cycle time.

  • Inventory turns (velocity) increase as we shorten production cycles. More turns allow operating profitably at lower margins.

  • The ideal flow is "one piece flow" (finish one work item before starting another one).

  • Create a level or smooth development process flow (decompose work effort into similarly sized work items).

  • Assess the value stream to make sure each step adds value, can make the desired result, that resources are available and adequate.

  • Organize so all the expertise needed to produce the product/service is on a cross-functional team rather than in traditional (functional) departments.

  • Integrate suppliers in the product development process.

  • Synchronize any simultaneously executing processes.

  • The fixed iteration time box/tempo of iterations keeps a sense of urgency and effectively sets the team cadence.


Establish Pull (Just-In-Time Production).

  • Only pull the amount of work item cards you can do (pull less than or equal to the WIP Limit). Often this is 1–2 per person.

  • Be accountable for work items you pull.

  • Use pull-based OJT training for development team members rather than push-based training all at once.

  • Build the required work item when it is required.

  • Downstream customers pull value from the preceding upstream activity, setting the pace.

  • No one upstream in the process should produce a work item until a downstream customer asks for it.

  • Less time is wasted building unsalable product.

  • Reduce or eliminate bottlenecks.

  • Pull is sometimes described as just-in-time.


Respect People.

  • Focus on process fixes first before seeking to blame people on the team.

  • Make the pace of work sustainable indefinitely–too much overtime adds risk.

  • Use lessons learned during retrospective meetings–a culture of blame constrains innovation, while collaborating how to do better supports improvement.

  • Let the people who do the work figure out the improvements each iteration.


Amplify Learning.

  • Over time, teach Lean thinking and skills to everyone involved.

  • Use short iteration cycles to speed the learning process.

  • Learn what to improve by increasing feedback using short feedback sessions with customers.

  • Use the Lean language so communication is efficient—All involved learn it.

  • Seek progress allowing for some mistakes as you learn.

  • At the start of the product design process, thoroughly explore alternative solutions while there is maximum time available for design.

  • Prevent accumulation of defects by running quality assurance content checks and functionality testing as soon as the content is written or the functionality is working.

  • Share effective improvements between teams on large projects.


Seek Perfection ( Kaizen, or get a little better each iteration).

  • Speed up PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust) cycles.

  • Improve the way projects are executed.

  • Focus on root causes not symptoms.

  • Build a culture to support excellence and relentless improvement.

  • Use standardization to create broader flexibility.

  • Build in continuous improvement and team learning.

  • Build in quality. Design processes, products and services to eliminate errors rather than inspecting work at the end of the process to make sure we find all errors.

  • Tailor technologies to fit your people and process where possible.

  • Get everyone actively engaged in operating the value stream correctly per the latest improvements.

  • The team looks for any lessons from failures.

  • Continually challenge the status quo.


Lead Lean.

  • Change from command and control style of leadership to leadership based on questioning, coaching and teaching and rooted in the scientific method of PDCA experiments.[2]

  • Read the respect people section again.

  • Engrain respecting people into leaders at all levels.

  • Track numbers and manage by evidence.

  • Lean leaders lead from gemba, where the action happens.

  • Apply the 3 "gen" or actuals:

    • genchi–(like gemba) go to the actual place.

    • genbutsu–observe the actual product, process or service.

    • genjitsu–gather actual facts.

  • Ask open-ended, probing questions.

  • Plan in more detail only when you get closer in time to doing the work (like rolling wave).

  • Unanticipated events occur during project life cycles.

  • Decide as late as possible, particularly for decisions that are irreversible, or at least will be impractical to reverse.

  • Minimize project administration.

Hopefully you can see how Lean and Agile are closely related with each other. It pays to understand Agile at the principles level before determining what method changes to incorporate.

1. See the later section about [queuingTheory].
2. Reproduced with permission from The Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc. (LEI), © Copyright 2016, Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc., Cambridge, MA, lean.org. All rights reserved., See http://www.lean.org

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