Lean For Lean Times : Delivering More With Less

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What has made Toyota a byword for "high quality", which propelled them to the # 1 position in the competitive worldwide automobile industry? The answer is ‘Lean' . You can use it too...Read on


From left to right: Neville Roy Singham, K.B Unni, Jagdish Ramaswamy and Ranga Shetty

What is Lean?


For the uninitiated, the word "Lean" refers to a practice that comes from the ability to achieve more with fewer resources, by the continuous elimination of waste & can be applied to different industries like manufacturing, product development and IT. This panel discussion focused on how Toyota's principles of minimal wastage can be applied to the IT industry.  


"The word Agile has become an accepted term in the software industry today. We are no longer alien to the benefits of using the Agile methods of software development." commenced Mr. Dharmarajan Sitaraman, Managing Director - ThoughtWorks India. This event was an excellent forum for IT business leaders and decision makers to connect and exchange views and best practices, especially in today's tricky economic state of affairs.

Any Company needs to make sure that it has got good people.

The panelists included:


Neville Roy Singham , Chairman & Founder ThoughtWorks; J agdish Ramaswamy , Chief Quality officer and head of  Wipro Way; K.B Unni , Managing Director from Seven Hat Consulting; and Ranga Shetty , Senior Director Engineering from Yahoo! Inc. Each speaker gave different perspectives on how implementation and adoption of Lean methods can provide an entirely new direction to the IT industry.




Roy Singham gave a quick overview of the current economic recession. He also highlighted how the "Big 3" car makers in the US are struggling in comparison with Toyota. "As the current recession takes a big toll on Indian IT companies, slashing unnecessary expenses and simplifying complex projects are the pressing needs of the hour. Lean helps you eliminate wasteful practices and features that don't contribute towards business goals, " Roy asserted. He went on to say that one third of the Fortune 500 companies in the year 1970 did not exist by the year 1983. In a mere 13 years, more than a third of the Fortune 500 companies had ceased to exist since they were not agile and lean in the way they ran their businesses! Roy was happy to be the brand ambassador for the ‘lean approach' in software development. Through this approach a software developer can compress the development cycles, leading to better usage of resources. This principle can also be extrapolated to the maintenance of human resources too. Any company worth its salt needs to make sure that it has got only "good people".


Any employee who is not on par with his skills, will be considered a "company waste".

One advantage of processes is that you have predictability.

Jagadish Ramaswamy shared Wipro's experiences with their Lean Movement - "Wipro Way" which includes methodologies like Six Sigma, Lean, Kaizen & Software Engineering processes.  Wipro was one of the early adaptors of this the six sigma approach in India, which was initially developed by Motorola. Even though the word "process" became relevant only in the 1980s, the word still has importance in today's world, he stressed. One advantage of processes is that you have predictability. There is always something that you need to do day in and day out. A process kind of gives a method to the madness in the business. He said that most companies had a tendency to get requirements from the customer and develop the project. What is more vital is the understanding of the customer's domain. This is something that most IT companies lose brownie points on! Jagadish also reiterated that the reason why Indian companies fail to quickly adapt to impending transformation is because the rate of attrition is comparatively high in India, crippling the process of what he calls ‘enculturization'. If employees are not able to get used to the culture of their particular company, that will take a big toll on the performance of that firm. So its ideal that the employee does get into a semi comfort zone, which helps in better productivity and growth.

Six Sigma is the most suitable approach to a business where more transactions take place

K.B. Unni offered a non-IT perspective, including how IT can learn from Six Sigma and how Lean thinking aligns well with both Agile and software Six Sigma. He made a compare & comparison study of the different approaches such as Six Sigma, Lean and Agile processes and when to adopt which practice. He did not blame any process and said all are important and applicable in different scenarios. He said that problems of "people vs process" or "process vs people" were not debates according to him. He went on to state that in India we are more capable of handling ambiguity. He also felt that any company, which would not benefit from these capabilities of these processes would be a disappointing. "I cannot understand why companies, after availing many benefits from Six Sigma, throw out the very approach just for replacing it with some thing else. Six Sigma is the most suitable approach to a business where more transactions take place," he said.


Ranga Shetty made the final presentation titled " Winning By Delivering Less", which emphasized on keeping product or IT solutions as simple as possible. He compared Pownce and Twitter and how Pownce failed because they tried to do more and introduced complex features, which created aggravation with users. Can we do less with less and still win the game? That's the meaning of lean according to Ranga. He said that one should focus exclusively on that one thing and excel in that. As there will be more technology tomorrow than what is there today, there will be more functionality tomorrow than what is there in place now. So, one has to make sure he or she does not perplex customers with a hell lot of choices. Simply put, keep the product or solution as simple as possible. Ranga validated his argument with a jam example. When samples of 24 types of Jam were kept for customers in a shop to choose, a lot of people turned up to taste it and move around the table, but the number of people who bought them were very less. But when the shop people reduced the experiment with six samples of jams, the number of people who turned up was small but buying increased ten times.

One should focus exclusively on one thing and  excel in that

Prashant Visweswaran VP, Global Products and Delivery from Aris Global Solutions also provided some key take-aways that he attained by being a delegate at the event. He spoke about how the recent economic downturn has magnified already existing pressures on IT leaders & how new approaches such lean can create a positive impact in todays scenario. Faster time-to-market, increased productivity and higher quality solutions are challenges faced by most organizations today & innovative thinking was needed to combat such challenges.


In conclusion, the Agile/Lean Revolution in software is already making headway against the obsolete industrial model of software development. The coming years are going to be exciting times for Indian IT firms. Just as Toyota's philosophy eventually led to their supremacy over GM, so will those firms who culturally change away from early 20th century methods thrive.


The ThoughtWorks Agile Business Series (TABS) is a quarterly event and a great way to keep abreast of new ways to help develop your Business strategies. Write to TABS@thoughtworks.com if you would like additional information the Agile Business Series.


Business Gyan was the media partner at the launch of TABS - ThoughtWorks Agile Business Series


Rajiv Mathew for Businessgyan 


Issue BG94 Jan09