Lean-agile is the digital enterprise's skeleton and nervous system
To become a truly digital enterprise, organisations have to find ways of allowing the principles of software development to influence the business process architecture of the organisation as a whole. That, however, is easier said than done, says Jaco Viljoen, Agile Consultant, IndigoCube.
In my previous article, I argued that software has become the principal way in which a digital enterprise turns its strategy into business processes that are nimble enough to respond to an ever-changing market. Excellence in software development is thus a key driver of corporate success.
One of the key software development techniques for the digital age is agile, and these days, most companies have one or more agile projects on the go. However, as time goes by, they come to realise they face the challenge of how to scale the agile way of doing things across the whole enterprise, and pull the business and software development teams into alignment. Failure to accomplish this is the reason so many organisations fail to become truly digital, and thus do not realise the benefits they were expecting.
Luckily, it is also likely that an organisation will also have some lean projects on the go. Lean derives from manufacturing and aims to minimise waste without compromising productivity. At the highest level, it does this by focusing on what adds value to customers. A lean enterprise tends to be one that creates products in response to customer orders instead of building products in advance and carrying them in inventory, says Jaco Viljoen, Agile Consultant at IndigoCube.
In many ways, then, lean's relationship to manufacturing mirrors agile's with software development. Both are ultimately concerned with creating processes that deliver what the business needs reliably and without wasting time and money.
However, unlike agile, lean was developed in the crucible of mass production (most famously at Toyota). Lean is very good at combining various value streams to produce a product desired by a customer. As a result, we are increasingly seeing leading companies using lean vocabulary and principles to connect the work of the various agile teams to produce the required product.
Lean's concept of Kaizen (continuous improvement) is also changing the way that agile is practised. Both the product and the process used to produce it are continuously improved.
Lean and agile go together and should be seen as complementary: lean-agile. Like everything in the digital world, this marriage is one that is always evolving, but already, frameworks like SAFe for Lean Enterprises and Disciplined Agile 2.0 have been developed to provide a way to integrate lean and agile.
A final word. Lean-agile should be seen less as a set of actions to be taken, and more as guiding principles to enable an organisation to identify and achieve value. It is necessary to understand what lean and agile are attempting to do, and then how the two can work together. It is not an end in itself, but a way of achieving the desired end goal. As such, it is the fundamental skill to enable the digital enterprise.