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The history of Lean

Lean is a management philosophy that originated in the manufacturing processes of the Japanese car manufacturer Toyota. It emerged in response to the challenges Toyota faced during and after World War II.

From 1950, Toyota began developing what later became known as the Toyota Production System (TPS). Taiichi Ohno, a production engineer at Toyota, played a crucial role in developing TPS. The idea behind TPS was to minimize waste and maximize efficiency through continuous improvement.

Around 1970, the concept of Lean gradually began to attract international attention. Japanese companies like Toyota, Nissan and Honda were becoming increasingly successful in the auto industry due to their application of Lean principles. Partly due to the oil crisis of 1973, many Western manufacturers were looking for ways to produce more efficiently and reduce costs.

In 1990, the term “Lean Manufacturing” became more popular following the publication of the book “The Machine that Changed the World” by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos. This book described the principles of Lean based on Toyota’s success.

Lean has evolved and is now considered a philosophy aimed at creating value for customers by reducing waste, streamlining processes and promoting a culture of continuous improvement. It has seen various variations and applications, such as Lean Six Sigma, which combines Lean principles with Six Sigma methodologies for quality improvement.

Lean and Scrum

As mentioned, Lean focuses on minimizing waste and maximizing value. Therefore, it aligns well with the Scrum framework. Scrum is based on Lean thinking (and empiricism of course). Some Lean principles seen in Scrum Teams include:

  • Minimize waste – Lean emphasizes eliminating waste in processes. This includes unnecessary steps, wait times, overproduction, unnecessary movements, defects, etc. In Scrum for example, you aim to reduce features that do not add value to the end-user.
  • Continuous improvement – The Lean philosophy includes the pursuit of continual improvement, also known as the Japanese word “Kaizen”. In the context of Scrum, this is achieved with Retrospectives. This is where the team reflects on the Sprint to identify what went well and what could be improved. Areas of focus in such a Retro include individuals, interactions, processes, tools and the Definition of Done.
  • Just-in-time – Lean advocates delivering the right product at the right time and avoids overproduction. Within Scrum this means striving to deliver working products in short iterations (Sprints), allowing the Scrum Team to be flexible in responding to changing requirements and/or feedback.
  • Team empowerment – Lean encourages employee responsibility and autonomy. In Scrum self-managing teams are encouraged, where team members collaborate, make decisions and are responsible for generating value.

Although Scrum and Lean have different origins, the principles of Lean are useful for enhancing the effectiveness of Scrum Teams. Especially by focusing on reducing waste, promoting continuous improvement and by creating a culture of collaboration and responsibility.

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