How to Combine Agile and Lean Together to Optimize Production

By Alan MacLamroc  |  Posted 2010-10-26

How to Combine Agile and Lean Together to Optimize Production

Many businesses today seek to control costs, streamline production and increase plant floor effectiveness. Achieving these goals is possible, though businesses can take radically different approaches to get there.

There are two distinct development methodologies that offer generally accepted ways to increase manufacturing efficiencies: lean and agile. The lean development methodology strictly focuses on value through waste minimization. The agile development methodology extends its vision to creating more value with less work. Utilizing a combined approach offers businesses the highest-quality finished goods with the lowest production costs.

Agile development methodology

Ideally, an agile approach to production helps achieve aggressive market delivery targets while maintaining cost structures that are responsive to-or ahead of-current economic conditions. One of the best ways to understand this principle comes from John Zachman, who originated the Zachman Framework. He laid the foundation for best practices in IT processes from development through architecture and governance.

One of Zachman's most memorable predictions about IT was couched in an analogy about the plant floor: that software would someday be created like a manufacturer produces a new good, with solutions made to order. Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) and agile processes have made Zachman's prediction a reality, as solutions for both discrete and process manufacturing companies have the power to bring manufacturing disciplines to bear in IT. Businesses can extend that capability, and therefore the ability to precisely deliver with high-quality solutions, by leveraging these manufacturing concepts.

Lean Development Methodology

Lean development methodology

Lean is generally the more publicly known approach to manufacturing. This is in part because Toyota's Taiichi Ohno coupled the principle of respect for the workforce with Henry Ford's vision for optimal production. This set Toyota down the road to become an iconic manufacturing powerhouse.

At the core of lean is a relentless focus on minimizing waste, the elimination of all activities that do not add value and a quest for zero defects. Continuous process improvement is also a central tenet (in Japanese, this is called Kaizen). Lean principles also include:

1. Quality: Test-driven development and highly automated testing management helps build quality into the product development process so that features are fully tested as the product is being built.

2. Pull processing: Products and features are defined with field experts and tested as they are being produced to provide optimum value to the people who will use them.

Building a better model with automation

In order for organizations to harness the power of lean practices, they must critically evaluate governance processes and project artifacts to decide if they add value or waste. Most of the agile application lifecycle management (ALM) solutions on the market today don't capture the right data and don't have real-time capabilities to make this information readily available for business evaluation.

This lack of real-time operational information hinders critical business decisions about which projects to continue or kill and which projects will deliver real value. Companies must be able to leverage not only lean but also agile principles to achieve a fast, flexible and resilient delivery process, yielding high speed-to-market results at a low cost.

Combining Lean and Agile

Combining lean and agile

An ideal solution that combines lean and agile would:

1. Measure true ROI

ALM solutions in the cloud would measure the impact of continuous improvement initiatives by tracking improvements in overall throughput, velocity and cycle time. This would, in turn, aid organizations to measure dollars returned for dollars spent because the new ALM solutions will be able to provide hard data that would attach dollar benefit values to features rather than just business cases.

2. Enable real-time visibility within and between teams

Agile development requires all team members to share near-instant visibility into the status of features and commitments. ALM tools need to set up virtual team rooms that radiate needed progress information and support the team members' natural signaling. This is even more critical for geographically dispersed teams who need to effectively work together across time zones. This is an imperative for teams spanning various countries and continents.

3. Provide the right information in the right format

Analytical databases that are hosted in the cloud enable companies to build the roll-up and drill-down reports unique to their business. This avoids the limits of outdated, canned reports provided by other vendors who can't deliver the insights required to confidently redeploy resources and investments as needed. Having a data warehouse in the cloud makes it easier for organizations to manipulate and consume critical organizational information.


The benefits of a network-based agile process management system go beyond discrete improvements to provide overall visibility into the progress of multiple product lines. This kind of control is vital to effectively managing and coordinating multiple teams. By reviewing progress in real time, managers can understand what has been accomplished while assessing backlogged elements for a more accurate assessment on delivery. The end result is a rewarding work environment that yields a high level of success.

Alan MacLamroc is the Chief Product and Technology Officer for CDC Software. Alan is responsible for global IT for the organization. He is also responsible for all company products, technology strategy, product management, software engineering, quality assurance, performance and systems integration. He can be reached at

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