Disciplined Agile

Common Lean Practices

Even if you don’t know lean, you probably already know many of the lean practices.

There are many lean practices. Even if you don’t know anything about lean, you might still be aware of some of the practices. Table 1 overviews some of the most popular and useful lean practices.

Table 1. Common lean practices.



5 Whys

A Lean technique for determining the root cause of an issue, especially when there is likely to be a single root cause. It involves asking “Why” 5 times (or more, as needed).

A3 Problem Solving

The A3 process is a team-collaborative, structured problem-solving practice that expands on PDCA. A3 refers to the A3 sized paper template that is used to outline plans throughout the problem-solving process.

An A3 template typically has the following steps/sections:

  • Identify: Begin by identifying the challenges and background information.
  • Summary: A comprehensive summary of the current state.
  • Goals: Come up with the goals or desired future statement.
  • Analysis: Conduct a root cause analysis to learn the issues.
  • Solutions: Decide the countermeasures necessary to correct the situation.
  • Plan: The plan to implement the countermeasures.
  • Results: Check the outcomes to confirm the solution.
  • Follow Up: Finally, consider any actions that might be needed to sustain the results.

Here is a case study on using the A3 problem solving process.

Continuous Flow

A Lean method that moves a single work item through every step of the process instead of grouping work items into batches (also known as single piece flow).

The DA principle Optimize Flow is an embodiment of continuous flow.

Gemba Walks

A management practice for understanding the current situation through direct observation and inquiry before taking action. Lean uses “gemba” to mean "where the real work happens", in Japanese it means “actual place”.

Error Proofing

The use of any automatic method or device that either makes it impossible for an error to occur or makes the error immediately obvious once it has occurred.

Error proofing examples:

  • A microwave shuts off when the door is opened.
  • Elevator doors refuse to close when something is blocking them.
  • An email won’t send if it has spelling errors.
  • Magnets in a grain packaging plant detect and remove metal pieces before they are packed.
  • Power guards on machines that prevent opening until the parts have stopped completely to prevent accidents.  


A Lean strategy used to create a “pull” system where the work in each process step is initiated by the downstream process step. This is used to minimize or control inventory (or work in process (WIP)) and all other forms of waste caused by overproduction.

This is not the same as the “Kanban Method” which is a methodology that bundles several lean concepts (continuous flow, visual workflow, kanban, and kaizen).

DA’s Lean Life Cycle is based on Kanban.


Kaizen is the lean process for continual improvement and means “Change for the better”. Kaizen is part philosophy and part action plan. As a philosophy, Kaizen is a way of thinking that informs every decision and infuses the culture. As an action plan, Kaizen is about making small changes to improve our processes, making steady incremental improvements to quality and performance.

DA's Continuous Guided Improvement (GCI) extends the kaizen improvement strategy to use proven guidance to help teams identify techniques that are likely to work in their context. This increases the percentage of successful experiments and thereby increases the overall rate of process improvement.


Key performance indicators (KPIs) are a set of quantifiable measures that an organization uses to gauge performance towards their strategic and operational goals. Unlike simple metrics, KPIs may combine many different metrics into a 'key' indicator. In this way, well-designed KPIs can give a clear picture of progress.

Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) / Plan Do Study Act (PDSA)

PDCA/PDSA is a four-step model for problem solving and continuous improvement. It provides a simple and structured way to solve problems and create positive change. It is widely used in lean as one of the ways of implementing kaizen. The acronym stands for the four steps (Plan, Do, Check/Study and Act):

  • Plan: Plan a change aimed at improvement.
  • Do: Carry out the change, preferably at a small scale
  • Check/Study: Study the results. What did we learn? What went wrong?
  • Act: Adopt or abandon the change, then repeat the cycle.

PDCA/PDSA is at the heart of DA’s Guided Continuous Improvement

Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is an umbrella term for many lean tools that are aimed at determining the root cause (or multiple root causes) of a problem. These tools include:

  • 5 Whys
  • Ishikawa (Fishbone) Diagram
  • Pareto Analysis
  • Scatter Diagram
  • Fault Tree Analysis
  • Causal Loop Diagram

Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping is an activity that catalogs the steps in the work that produces a product or delivers a service. It reveals where the interfaces are between activities and the time required during and between process steps. This makes it easier to spot improvement opportunities.

Visual Management

Visual management is a way to visually communicate important information in a way that requires little or no prior training to interpret. Lean organizations rely heavily on visual controls to reinforce standards, detect abnormalities and show performance. Ideally, everyone should be able to assess status easily, even the casual observer.

February 2022