Lean Software Development

Software development can greatly improve its business performance by discovering and embracing its kinship to classic (non-software) industries. Perhaps the most important thing software has to gain is guidance on how to implement Lean production.

Lean production has, on average, doubled productivity and tripled quality for the classic industries. According to James M. Sutton with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, early applications of Lean to software have exceeded those results.

Software development is an ideal subject for Lean because its product is pure information that lacks the physical limitations of durable goods, as well as, most of the soft issues of service activities. In software development, Lean can remain focused on the primary issues of value and waste. This allows the Lean tools to work with unusual effectiveness.

One of the biggest challenges for software development approaches has been to keep up with the growth in size and rigor of customer systems. Lean scales up easily for large systems. It works well in plan-ahead life cycles such as the Department of Defense acquisition system. Lean also provides the evidence and assurance needed for safety-critical and high-security applications. These capabilities make it well-suited for the defense and aerospace domains, and for most other domains as well.

Mr. Sutton says it is time for software to take its place as a classic industry and leverage the strengths of Lean production. Lean enables faster code production, smoother integration with other products, fewer surprises to budget and schedule, better quality, and happier customers. Lean converts software from management’s biggest worry into one of its best means for assuring business success. Embracing Lean ushers software into the fold of classic industry as a welcome and synergistic partner.

For more information, see Mr. Sutton’s article, “Welcoming Software Into the Industrial Fold”, in the May 2008 issue of CrossTalk, the Journal of Defense Software Engineering.