Lean software development is an agile framework that teams use to optimize development time and resources.It is a core practice that many of the world’s biggest companies follow to undeniable success. In this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at each phase of lean software development and how your product team can enhance the basic lean framework by embracing a tactical, data-driven process to better position itself for success.
How Does a Data-Driven Lean Process Work?
If you make data-informed decisions at each step of the lean framework, your entire process will be more robust.
- Know which wasteful aspects to eliminate.
- Effectively understand how to build quality.
- Amplify learning with knowledge.
- Know when to delay commitment.
- Respect people by understanding them.
- Optimize processes efficiently.
Eliminate Waste Efficiently
We can define waste in many ways. Everything from bureaucratic red tape to unnecessary lines of code might constitute waste. For the sake of this article, however, we’re going to define waste as anything in a product that doesn’t actively deliver value to your users or that negatively impacts their experience.
You might be asking yourself, if something doesn't add value, why does it exist? Well, that’s a great question! Teams often allocate as many resources to building new features as they can while ignoring as much of the previous waste as possible. Of course, this approach only compounds the issue. So, what can we do about it?
Always prioritize fixing the features that are low input and high output, meaning they take less time to address and deliver the greatest increase in customer experience for the end user. By focusing on this sweet spot, you can make a real impact, regardless of team size.
Here’s a simple graphic illustrating the sweet spot:
How Data Fuels Quality
To build an organization devoted to great quality, everyone on your team needs to know the standards and practices necessary to achieve it. But as teams grow, upholding those expectations becomes harder without creating red tape that slows everyone down. Obviously, this contradicts the first principle.
To set your teams up for success, create a shared definition of what “quality” actually means. From the hundreds of product leaders, engineers, and support teams I’ve talked to in my career, I believe you can summarize quality as follows: “The performance of a product as it relates to the end-user experience.” Thus, you need to understand every issue within the context of how it impacts your user’s experience in service of their goals.
Now, to put this in practice, the key is to closely watch user actions and see how they impact the overall experience. By adopting the best methods to track these interactions, you can get a clear picture of what people love and what they might find tricky. A process that many successful companies use to evaluate the success of their users is to correlate behavioral analytics, ticketing feedback, and engineering data. By tying in these different types of data, you can get a full picture of the user’s experience. What were they doing? What did they say? How was our application performing?
By connecting user experiences with the behind-the-scenes workings of the product (at the code level, if possible), you can get a full story of how well everything is working. This is where you can work more closely with your engineering team to ensure end-to-end product quality.
Amplifying Learning With Knowledge
The relationship between sales and engineering is an undeniable point of friction. Thankfully, one surefire way to narrow the gap between these disparate parts of an organization is to put the user at the center of how everyone talks about decisions.
Many companies today acquire feedback about their products or services through external sources and create an internal memo explaining the users’ experiences. They are then able to deliver this high-level insight across their organizations, which can be an awesome way to amplify learning. But you can take it one step further.
Try to link what your users do to what you’re building. If you release a new feature and your customers love it, try to correlate that success directly to the engineering work your team has done. And if there’s a hiccup? Show your team the feedback in the context of the code they’ve written. Doing so helps them truly see the real-world effects of their work. This is another instance where correlating different types of data (analytics, ticketing and engineering) will go a long way in helping build out a picture of cause and effect in your application.
Know When to Delay Commitment
Swift action doesn’t always lead to better results. In fact, moving too fast often leads teams down the wrong path. Strive to find balance in your decision-making process: Sometimes you need to act fast, and others you need to sit back and watch the story unfold. The more data you can collect before making a final decision, the better.
Think of this step as waiting to see the weather forecast right before a picnic rather than trusting a prediction from a week ago. Your software team can do this by using flexible project management processes, adjusting as you go rather than sticking strictly to an initial plan. You can also create MVPs, or minimum viable products, to test their usefulness before fully developing them. This will give you the data you need to make meaningful, informed decisions.
The key is to design your work in a way that allows for changes without having to start over. You should also stay in constant communication, ensuring everyone knows the latest updates and can make decisions accordingly. This approach isn’t about procrastinating; it’s about making the best decisions with the most up-to-date information.
To Respect People, Understand Them
Respect, in the professional sense, starts with giving people everything they need to be successful and trusting their abilities. Micromanaging or failing to invest in your team is going to create unwanted dependencies and a lack of confidence that will hinder your ability to move fast and build a great product.
Starting with the right tools and methods is crucial. Although investing in more tools might seem costly, having the right equipment can make all the difference in doing a job well. With the rise of smart software, lots of options can boost your team's productivity and help them excel. Be sure to let your team know that this software is there to support them, not take over their jobs.
Moreover, good leaders provide their teams with what they need and set clear expectations. By setting high standards and clear goals, and combining these benchmarks with constant progress tracking, leaders can foster a culture where everyone is committed and motivated to succeed.
Optimizing Through Data
For lean development to work, everyone on a team must work at their best. Unfortunately, the largest points of friction, or single points of failure, exist between disciplines, where languages, incentives, and expectations don’t always align.
To optimize the whole of your team and your operation, start by creating a single language, incentive and expectation, and use this to drive how you track success as a team. This alignment should live on in the company mission, so that everyone, from sales to engineering, can keep a clear understanding of what they need to do.
Breaking down silos between different disciplines and aligning them around user-centric objectives maximizes productivity and minimizes friction. By optimizing the whole development process, teams can deliver high-quality software efficiently and effectively.