Curated by: Sergio A. Martínez
Software development is a notoriously unpredictable process. Even the most experienced developers can find themselves facing unexpected challenges and surprises which can lead to frustration, as new requirements pop up, deadlines change, and unanticipated bugs can throw everything off course, especially as projects grow in size and scope, and a tighter collaboration and approach is needed.
As a result, in such a volatile industry, it’s important to avoid waste whenever possible; anything that doesn’t add value to the end product, from inefficient code to unused features, should be left off, as it helps to keep development costs down and ensures that the final product is as high-quality as possible.
However, due to how unpredictable software development can sometimes be, a good approach is to use lean practices. Lean practices in software development aim to create more value for the customer while minimizing waste. This is achieved by constantly improving the process and eliminating anything that doesn’t add value, helping to reduce the risk of errors and defects by catching them early on.
Our current model of lean development comes from the Toyota Production System, a manufacturing approach that seeks to make the whole process as efficient as possible in seven key areas: overproduction, inventory, motion, defects, over-processing, waiting, and transport. And although the material processes involved in manufacturing cars and developing software look very different from a distance, applying this same logic brings even better outcomes; common lean practices include things like continuous integration, continuous delivery, and test-driven development, in addition to reductions in the cycle time and batch size, so developers can ship working software more frequently and get feedback earlier, allowing them to make course corrections sooner, leading to a more efficient process overall.
As a result, lean practices can lead to significant improvements in software quality and developer productivity by promoting continuous improvement and efficient use of resources. By identifying and removing unnecessary steps, lean practices help to improve quality and speed while reducing costs. In an industry where time is always of the essence, lean practices can play a vital role in helping developers deliver high-quality software on time and within budget.
Lean Manufacturing and Agile Methodologies, hand in hand
“Both approaches have their strengths that complement each other very well. On one hand, lean manufacturing is all about efficiency and minimizing waste, and on the other, Agile focuses on flexibility and responding quickly to changes”, says Luis Aburto, CEO, and Co-Founder of Scio. “Together, these two methodologies can help to create a process that is both efficient and adaptable; for example, Agile can help to identify areas where lean manufacturing could be improved. And lean manufacturing can help to streamline the Agile process and make it more efficient, enabling developers to create a process that is both responsive and efficient – the perfect combination for today’s ever-changing landscape.”
But what do these lean practices look like in an Agile environment? By adapting the Toyota System into a software development process, we can come up with a series of key areas or steps where it’s possible to avoid waste, and thus create products that accomplish the goals of the client, the team, and the project in the least wasteful way possible. Such key areas are:
1. Unnecessary Features.
There is an oft-cited study by the Standish Group that famously says that “45% of the features in a given application are never used”. If that number seems too high, you may be right (it was based on four internal applications, which is a small sample), but trying to keep requirements in check is a key point of lean development. If your requirements team tries to anticipate everything a client might want in their product, it’s easy to add features that will not matter to the final user. An Agile methodology, then, which prioritizes the most critical features, is the best strategy to save resources otherwise wasted on elements nobody needs or wants.
2. Unnecessary Value.
Following the last point, there is such a thing as unnecessary value, also known as “gold plating”, which is devoting too many resources to polish a product in places where it’s not necessary, risking the cost-effectiveness of a project. “Good enough” is not a bad approach, especially in software where a finishing point tends to be nebulous at best, and continuous support, debugging, and updating is a normal part of the job.
3. Unrealistic Expectations.
Most of the problems of these last two points stem from overestimating the resources, time, and effort needed to accomplish a project, and thus overpromising on a result. Trimming down requirements to their most basic and critical not only helps a team to get going with development but also ensures they can make the necessary progress on each sprint, focusing on a narrow set of variables easy to control and correct. Going beyond that only ensures problems down the road.
4. Unnecessary Innovation.
Ready-made solutions to challenges and obstacles in development are not forbidden; getting stuck “reinventing the wheel” is an easy way to waste resources and delay a product in search of a completely new approach that might or might not have benefits in the long run. No-code solutions to prototype applications, AI-based tools to look into coding solutions, and the like are tools that can have a marked positive outcome when striving for timely delivery each sprint.
5. Unnecessary Downtime.
Waiting for a team, or even a single developer, to deliver to another to continue development is seldomly a process that results in efficiency. One of the key points in Agile methodology is to structure development to avoid this downtime, with short overlapping steps that ensure no one gets stuck and delays the contributions of the rest of the team and splitting development into blocks where “the business owners can identify the next set of features while the development and QA teams can implement the last requirements.”
6. Over-relying on QA.
Going back to our “good enough” philosophy, achieving this result doesn’t mean that developers can let their guard down concerning bugs and errors in the codebase of the product; good lean development has quality implementation at each step of the process, with QA as a continuous process that audits development at each step. Code reviews, unit testing, and constant communication are key to reducing the time and resources necessary in QA to achieve the best possible product.
7. Underused Creativity.
The Agile methodology knows the value of creativity and problem-solving as a tool during development, letting each member of the team add their knowledge, experience, and insight into the perfect solution for any programming challenge. Treating development as a machine where every cog has a specific function, without context, collaboration, or communication, is a sure recipe for negative outcomes if the individual developer doesn’t have the flexibility to bring any useful input they might have.
Bringing Agile talent to your team
When it comes to software development, the lean approach is all about doing more with less, having the goal is to reduce waste and increase efficiency by streamlining the development process and choosing the right talent and collaborative environment that can be conducive to that, with Nearshore augmentation offering an alternative that brings the best of both approaches.
One of the benefits of Nearshore development is that it is easier to implement a lean software development process. This is because the team is already in place and there is no need to go through the hassle and expense of setting up a new office or hiring additional staff, saving on time and resources when starting a new project. In addition, nearshore teams are typically more flexible and responsive than offshore teams, making it easier to implement changes rapidly.
“As the software development landscape evolves, more organizations are turning to lean and agile methodologies to streamline their processes and deliver better results. And while these approaches can offer a number of benefits, they tend to work best when teams are nearshore”, explains Luis Aburto. “Nearshore teams tend to have a better understanding of the local market and what customers are looking for. This knowledge can be invaluable when it comes to developing software that meets the needs of the target audience. Additionally, nearshore teams are typically more responsive to changes and feedback, which is essential in an agile environment.”
As a result, lean software development processes can be more effectively implemented with a Nearshore team in place. This can lead to quicker turnaround times and reduced costs, making it an attractive option for businesses that are looking to improve their bottom line. In addition, it is important to build flexibility into the development process, being willing to adjust plans on the fly and make changes when necessary. By remaining flexible, developers can ensure that their projects stay on track, even when faced with unexpected challenges.
The Key Takeaways
- The unpredictability of software development can create situations where avoiding “waste” (of time or resources) is the main obstacle to productivity and the effectiveness of a development cycle.
- The “Toyota Production System” can offer some guidance for a lean development approach that can help alleviate these challenges.
- Lean development is as its most effective when paired with an Agile methodology, feeding each other to achieve peak effectiveness and the least waste during any given project.
- Working with Nearshore talent to augment your staff is also a great option to avoid waste, as an organization doesn’t need to commit time or resources to build a team and start development right away.
Scio is an established Nearshore software development company based in Mexico that specializes in providing high-quality, cost-effective technologies for pioneering tech companies. We have been building and mentoring teams of engineers since 2003 and our experience gives us access not only to the knowledge but also the expertise needed when tackling any project. Get started today by contacting us about your project needs – We have teams available to help you achieve your business goals. Get in contact today!