Today’s consumers demand high-quality products and services delivered promptly. To stay competitive in the marketplace, you need to meet, or even exceed, these expectations.

Being efficient with your development and production procedures is vital, but this involves more than auditing processes. It’s a mindset you embrace that focuses on reducing and eliminating wasteful practices, approaches, and procedures.

The lean-agile project management methodology encourages this mindset. Implement this approach to product production to improve your team’s productivity and your product’s quality.

What’s lean-agile?

Lean-agile is a set of principles and practices aimed at minimizing waste — like the number of tasks in a project or the time it takes to complete items — while maximizing customer value. It’s not one specific thing but rather a philosophy focused on relentless improvement that encourages every teammate to scrutinize their workflows to reduce inefficiencies.

Implementing this approach requires leadership buy-in, with upper management continuously refining development methods and standardizing more productive procedures.

This approach is a modern take on lean manufacturing, which originated in the Japanese car manufacturing industry as a way to increase profits by reducing costs instead of relying entirely on increased sales. Toyota, the spearheader of this method, realized that by eliminating waste in three core areas — muda (wasted effort), mura (inconsistency), and muri (over-commitment to tasks), they became more efficient and therefore increased profit margins.

IT and software teams took this lean manufacturing model and combined it with agile practices to create a way to improve product creation efficiency by removing waste. This combination is what is now the lean-agile methodology, a method that revolves around one simple premise: By significantly reducing and eliminating distractions and waste, your team establishes a more organized and efficient workflow that results in higher team productivity and greater product quality.

Why is the lean-agile approach useful?

Lean-agile’s strength comes from offering your team the tools and mindset necessary to efficiently manage three key areas:

  1. Time: Ideally, you want to deliver products and services as quickly as possible without reducing quality. And bottlenecks and inefficient processes can disrupt your team’s workflow and strain deadlines. Using lean-agile processes like value stream maps and sprints ensures you’re pinpointing and mitigating potential delays to complete a project quicker.
  2. Cost: Any time you eliminate waste, you save money. Over time, embracing lean-agile methods sets your team up to know how to scrutinize resources and better prioritize tasks to reduce costs.
  3. Processes: By continually improving your team’s workflow processes, you maintain the quality of your product or service while increasing efficiency. Encouraging a culture of constant improvement means all employees know to speak up when they feel a workflow isn’t as efficient as it could be, slowly streamlining processes as they go.

What’s the relationship between lean and agile?

Lean-agile combines the lean manufacturing process with the agile methodology. Here’s more on each part of this balance, as well as what it means to bring these two approaches together:

  • Lean production is a waste reduction method focused on increasing customer value. When implementing lean production strategies, a team finds ways to constantly refine processes to maximize efficiency and identify tasks that aren’t contributing to this.
  • The agile method is a project management strategy typically used in projects relevant to product development. This approach involves dividing project tasks into smaller stages (sprints), each of which typically tests and completes one product feature. With this approach, it’s all in the name: Teams that embrace agile value strategic and efficient work that’s flexible and provides end-users with deliverables more consistently.
  • A lean-agile approach is an excellent one-two punch for effective project management, as agile focuses on teamwork and product delivery while lean aims to improve process efficiencies more generally.

9 essential principles of the lean-agile approach

Feeling motivated to implement lean-agile? To ensure your organization fully understands and embraces this new way of work, here are nine principles that connect all lean-agile teams.

1. Take an economic view

You must be aware of the monetary impact every developmental decision has on your product or service in order to deliver the best quality in the shortest amount of time. Taking an economic view means you deliver early and often, operate within a tight budget, and apply job sequencing — which is organizing tasks in the order that maximizes profit.

2. Apply systems thinking

Systems thinking means looking at the whole of something rather than separating it into parts, and embracing how each part works together to create a complete system.

This mindset is useful when implementing lean-agile because you can only optimize your organization’s productivity and product quality if you understand how each component affects others and contributes to the whole.

For instance, value stream mapping is a common way to audit processes to reduce waste and increase customer value. You’ll outline information and material flow, as well as where client demands and supplier offerings come in. To create a comprehensive “whole picture” map, you must look at the system as a whole composed of invaluable parts to truly see where inefficiencies lie.

3. Document changes

Lean-agile focuses on refining existing processes — but the improvement doesn’t need to stop there. Document these adjustments so that when new processes come into play, you can apply these efficient methods to continue the cycle of continuous improvement.

4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

One of the core agile practices is to break projects into sprints, or program increments (PIs), that cover about 2–3 weeks and close with a completed end-user deliverable. Begin each PI with strategic program board/sprint planning and end it with an agile retrospective to better understand what went right and wrong.

5. Limit work in progress (WIP)

To achieve an efficient and continuous team workflow, limit WIP and shrink batch sizes (the work involved in completing one product development step) when possible, thus decreasing the waiting time for the next step.

6. Create agile cadences

An agile cadence is a set of scheduled events and activities that are made routine for your team, like sprint planning, retrospectives, and client update calls. Creating this routine ensures everyone is in-the-know and encourages continuous cross-functional communication so nothing falls through the cracks.

7. Encourage autonomy

A core tenet of the agile framework is individual autonomy. As long as teammates complete work and attend important meetings, they’re generally offered the freedom to work the way they want. This faith in each person’s capabilities is a self-esteem boost that increases motivation and accountability, in turn improving productivity levels and ensuring employees feel responsible for delivering high-quality work.

8. Decentralize decision-making

Because the lean-agile framework puts autonomy — and, thus, responsibility — onto each individual worker, employees feel empowered to participate in important decision-making. This decentralization encourages faster problem-solving and team empowerment, leading to faster workflows overall.

9. Organize around customer value

Central to lean practices is finding ways to deliver more value to customers, and whenever your team is quicker and offers higher-quality products, you’re doing just that. By embracing this methodology, you’re entrenching the idea that every improvement is for the client or customer’s benefit. This purpose results in a hive-mind workforce dedicated to the company’s success.

Make your lean-agile journey easier with Tempo’s tools

Incorporating lean-agile principles might seem daunting at first, but the benefits to your team’s efficiency and your product quality are well worth it.

Ease this transition by starting with several of Tempo’s tools. Use Roadmunk to create visual roadmaps for each agile sprint and Timesheets to track team progress throughout. Then, align your teams with the Project Portfolio Manager and plan your overall lean-agile organizational structure with Custom Charts for Jira.