Disciplined Agile

Lean Thinking and Lean Practice

Lean thinking always starts with the customer. What does the customer value, or what problem does the customer need to solve?

Lean practice begins with the work and the people doing that work. The work is the actions that directly or indirectly create value for the customer. This includes ideas such as optimizing flow, making all work and workflow visible, and keeping workloads within capacity.

Using ongoing experimentation, the workers and managers learn by innovating in their work for increasingly better quality and flow, less time and effort, and lower cost. This systematic and continuous learning is the result of lean thinking and practice.


In knowledge work, there are eight principles that guide lean thinking and practice:

  1. Build quality in. Lean organizations build quality into everything they do. Lean teams adopt practices that ensure that each element of their solution, at every increment, meets appropriate quality standards.
  2. Eliminate waste. The primary goal in lean is to eliminate waste, not just reduce it. Understanding some of the common categories of waste can help make waste easier to identify. Knowledge work is not the same as manufacturing where lean originated, but the principles still apply.
  3. Learn pragmatically. Lean teams continuously strive for perfection. Experimentation and reflection are the driving forces; they continuously run practical experiments and pragmatically apply what they learn—freely sharing this new knowledge with other teams.
  4. Keep options open. It's not necessary to start projects by defining a complete specification. Delay detailed discussions of future features—and decisions about them—until the last responsible moment, when more information will enable them to make a better decision.
  5. Deliver value quickly. Limiting the work of a team to its capacity enables a reliable and repeatable flow of work. Constraining a team to regularly delivering potentially shippable solutions motivates them to stay focused on continuously adding value.
  6. Respect people. Lean teams respond to people promptly, listen attentively, hear their opinions, and do not dismiss them even when they are different from their own. Lean recognizes that teams work best when they are empowered to make decisions where the work is.
  7. Optimize the whole. A lean organization seeks to optimize the whole value stream, not just individual functions or teams. High-level business processes often cross multiple systems and teams, and seek to optimize the entire process, not just the work of a single team.
  8. Build in resilience. Enterprise resilience is an organization-wide term that represents the ability of the organization to rapidly adapt and respond to all types of risks. This includes both acute risks (such as natural disasters, cyber-attacks, or supply chain disruptions) and chronic risks (such as adapting and adjusting to a new environment and new circumstances). All of the lean principles contribute to enterprise resilience. Even though resilience is a downstream consequence of the other lean principles, it is important enough to call out on its own.

March 2022