|SPHERE OF INFLUENCE, INC. – software designers
It seems like everyone has some kind of Lean initiative. When organizations feel pressure to do something about their slowness, inefficiency and poor quality they naturally grab for things like Lean. Lean is one of those pin-up initiatives, like CMMi, TQM and Six-Sigma, that gives the impression you are serious about solving a problem, but in reality makes little or no difference.
This has become increasingly frustrating in the software industry. It's not that I have any particular gripe about Lean Product Development (the type of Lean that software developers should use). As anyone who knows me can attest, I truly like and support most of what is commonly Lean, however having a Lean initiative seldom makes any difference to a software product development organization. To the extent that inventory or queue optimization makes sense, most organizations can't or won't take advantage of it. Moreover, most of the causes of slowness, inefficiency, and poor quality are not addressable by a Lean initiative.
The question is, what are you really trying to fix with Lean? Too slow, too inefficient, too crappy, or too what else?
Ten times out of ten an organization has problems in these areas because they don't actually value them. Yes, there - I said it. Organizations are slow because they don't value fast. They are inefficient because they don't value efficiency. They ship lousy products because they don't value excellence. Organizations lie to themselves and pretend they value these things, but many don't; at least not as much as they value whatever they are trading them off for. If they truly valued speed, efficiency, and quality then they would already be doing it. Corporate cultures are inherently self-optimizing and if those things were important then the organization would structure itself around them. Anything else is faking it. You can try to blame process, methodology, or tooling but those are seldom the cause.
Companies will invest millions in a Lean initiative but won't remove the pervasive and recurring reasons why projects are slow and inefficient, despite the fact that those causes have been known for years. Ultimately any Lean initiative will run into these immutable behaviors and that's when the organization will get weary of Lean.
Whenever I see an organization complaining about being too slow, I usually see an organization that is wired to go slow. There's nothing pushing to cultivate fast red-shifted development. When I see organizations complaining about poor quality, at every turn I see them leaning on big clumsy processes while continuously looking the other way as qualities that really matter to customers get ignored. When I see organizations complaining about low innovation, I see them sitting out every opportunity to take risks, launch bold curve jumping ideas, or partner with cross-segment teammates.
Think of it this way: You have a good friend who admits he needs to lose weight and get healthy but he's taking 3rds from the long end of a buffet line. He informs you that a new diet pill (Lean Rx) is really good and when you see him next month he will be 50 lbs trimmer. For a friend like that the solution isn't a diet pill, it's fewer trips to the buffet and some exercise. Same goes for a software organization.
Lean is just a diet pill. It has some great ingredients that can be helpful if you are otherwise committed to efficiency and follow all the directions on the package. However, if you pop the pill but keep gorging on inefficient processes and people then it won't make a darned bit of difference; you'll just be out the cost of the pill. Moreover, if you are really committed to improvement then a Lean pill isn't really necessary.
In a software shop if you want faster product development then cultivate a "waste anything but time" culture. If you want better quality, make sure high standards are deeply embedded in everything the organization does, from hiring to engineering to content to aesthetics, and especially to customer experiences.
What your people need to see is an intolerance from the top. They need to see intolerance for slow, inefficient, low risk, low reward behaviors.
Want to move faster in product development? Find your best team, you know who they are, and ask them who is in their way - then remove those obstacles (usually people). When you do that announce that "this company will no longer tolerate obstacles, blockades, and culture of no. Starting today, if you aren't focused on faster development or improving customer experiences then you don't belong at Acme Widgets".
Hire and promote people who accelerate product development and enhance customer experiences. When those people tell you something is in their way, nuke it. That's the core of it, everything else is gravy.
If your best people have something in their way and they've told the bosses but nothing changes...those people are learning what the organization truly values. Remember that.