Use Lean Thinking to Accelerate DevOps Performance for Agile Teams


Leaders in agile organizations should consider adding lean techniques to their DevOps practices. Lean thinking can accelerate DevOps delivery by providing a set of processes and principles to help create more beneficial products, save money, boost productivity, reduce waste, and map to value.

Lean thinking is a methodology that reduces waste while improving output of processes. Based on lean management principles of value, value streams, flow, pull, and perfection, lean thinking supports innovation by aligning customer satisfaction with employee satisfaction, which works well with agile initiatives.

DevOps is the practice of operations, security, and development engineers participating together in the entire lifecycle, from design through development all the way to production support. It combines the elements of development and operations to create a synergistic and holistic organization that seeks continuous improvement by using technical practices, such as tools for release management, provisioning, configuration management, systems integration, monitoring and control, and orchestration. This builds a culture of trust and transparency by creating products and services in a single, collective team. The ability to accelerate the time to deploy code releases and receive feedback is one of the key benefits of DevOps.

Lean thinking and management practices can further accelerate DevOps delivery by providing a set of processes and principles to help create more beneficial products, save money, boost productivity, reduce waste, and map to value.

How to Think Lean

These agile practices create a system that reduces waste by carefully detailing the end-to-end work processes. Outlining a holistic value stream map helps team members visualize all steps and find ways to eliminate unnecessary elements. The amount of work in the queue clearly shows the relationship between work in progress, so organizations can improve operations by reducing lead time. Involving the entire team in value stream mapping along with the customer can create products and services that delight the customer. Using lean kanban principles for portfolio selection of product initiatives also helps eliminate waste because leaders review and prioritize initiatives when making their selections, reducing costs in the system. Ideally, the organization will create and use a single product backlog.

Consolidate development teams into smaller groups in order to provide a better balance between process improvements and value delivery of products. Using the rules of Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) from Craig Larman, break components into artifacts and process groups. Strive to have a single product backlog, one shippable product increment, and one sprint, regardless of whether you have three teams or one hundred three. Try to ensure you use lean principles, including “Go See Yourself,” where the development team works with the customers on site in their natural location, as well as finding other ways to get feedback from customers. Have a single sprint—or use kanban, which is a continuous sprint with frequent, automated incremental deliveries—and a single product delivery. Finally, use metrics that matter; ensure you report only metrics that are really beneficial to your organization.

In a 2015 study from Puppet Labs, a direct correlation was found between improved quality and productivity when using lean thinking in DevOps practices. High-performing agile teams had thirty times more frequent deployments and eight thousand times faster lead times than their peers. Reliability increased with a doubled change success rate, and mean time to recovery was twelve times faster. The study also reported that organizations using DevOps principles are twice as likely to exceed profitability, market share, and productivity goals, and they have a 50 percent higher market cap growth over three years.

If a greater number of organizations had access to statistics and information about applying lean thinking to DevOps principles and practices, we could improve the performance of the entire software industry. More organizations should share the research obtained from their own experiences with lean and DevOps so that conclusive quantitative analysis can be used to broaden everyone’s understanding of the practices. We should also undertake more research on the effects of lean manufacturing integrated with technology, and the findings to date should be shared with more organizations. Increased access to case studies about the best means to link lean manufacturing principles and technology strategies in order to produce the greatest results would also help spread the word.

Streamlining operations by aligning all members of the organization, as DevOps encourages, while simplifying processes, which is the goal of lean, helps drive business transformation by creating an efficient machine that builds and releases software and services that provide the best value to the customer. Furthermore, more time is available for innovation and research because of the reduction of work hours by creating a more efficient delivery organization.

The ability to innovate is critical to technology organizations, so the adoption of DevOps practices coupled with lean principles not only benefits the customer and the organization, but also promotes social change by fostering innovative learning organizations that are motivated, creative, and nimble.

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