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  • Rebecca Harris

A Lean organisation underpinned by trust and validated learning

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

Our increasingly complex and complicated business domains require new ways of working based on shared principles, trust and a culture of rapid learning.

What this article does and does not do?

This article describes how we can combine practises such as Design Thinking, Lean, Agile and DevOps across the product life cycle to achieve improved business outcomes. It does not postulate that this is an overall method that can be followed linearly. Rather, many of the practises overlap and complement each other. It is the principles that are aligned and through the history of each of the models’ development, they have become building blocks for each other.

A collaboration between Whiteboard People and S3consult.

Feedback loops are one such example. As early as the 1950’s the Deming cycle promoted fast feedback through continuous cycles of (Plan, Do, Check and Act). During the 2000's we observed this through the notion of Agile “Inspect and Adapt” and more recently in the Lean Startup movement of the “Build, Measure and Learn” feedback loops.

What problem is this model trying to solve?

This model places Agile in context to the wider Product lifecycle and provides organisations a simple way to observe and orient where they are and form a plan to take the next steps to improve their product delivery.

The LEAN Enterprise approach helps you maximise value from your existing business models over the immediate term utilising Lean and Agile techniques. Design Thinking and Lean start-up can assist organisations to innovate by exploring new markets and business models for the longer-term horizon through rapid experimentation and validated learning cycles.

As new products and features cross the chasm (The Chasm) between an early adoption stage and mainstream majority in the Technology Adoption lifecycle (see below), DevOps becomes the means to achieve reliability and quality as we grow.

Technology Adoption Lifecycle
Technology Adoption Lifecycle

Let’s look at the product lifecycle in more detail and why these practices can help.


During product discovery, we explore the customer problem. Design thinking can help us remove our own confirmation bias as we identify, empathise and engage with our customers. As we observe their behaviours we can quickly ideate through their real customer problems to form prototypes. Ideally, we find a connection between a strong customer problem (desirable), and a technically feasible value creation opportunity (viability) for the enterprise.

Design thinking can reduce the risk of taking the wrong ideas forward and fleshes out unmet needs that may generate completely new business models.


Define ensures the right tools are applied to gain a whole-of-business perspective on the problem and that solutions address the right areas of the value stream.

Lean problem solving provides a rapid and systematic method to develop solution ideas to identified problems and opportunities. The technique of Value Stream Mapping enables the organisation to collaboratively visualise the combination of people, processes, technology and information which come together to deliver value to the customer. Root cause analysis tools discourage superficial treatment and look to prevent problems from recurring, particularly from the customer’s standpoint.

“Improvement means doing something we have not done before” — Shigeo Shingo

Collaboration across the entire value stream translates into an optimisation of the overall system with investment being directed to the areas that will provide the greatest return. Kaizen blitzes or events can lead to incremental process-based improvements which build the organisation’s confidence and ability to deliver change successfully, whilst working towards transformational change or a new operating model.


LEAN start-up assists us to take the right product to market and focusses on testing that we have the correct problem-solution fit (Value hypotheses). In other words, will our customers use the product? Equally important we must validate we have the correct product-market fit (Growth Hypotheses). Will our customers recommend the product to others?

MVP (minimal viable product) is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.” Eric Ries, Lean Start-Up

“The goal of the MVP is to begin the process of learning, not end it.” Eric Ries, Lean Start-Up

As the risk decreases and confidence increases, experiments can be scaled until eventually, the products create new business models generating both revenue and cash flow. More and more organisations are seeing the value of a Test and learn capability and adjusting budgets, culture, goals and metrics to accommodate for these high growth businesses inside the enterprise portfolio.


Agile enables teams to collaborate on increments of value across a series of timeboxes. Iterative delivery techniques can be applied anywhere in the product life cycle and provides the rigour required to learn and adapt quickly. Agile builds on many of the LEAN principles including prioritising based on value from the customers perspective, pull versus push work, and working solutions early and continuously. A number of commercial frameworks such as SCRUM and SAFE have led to Agile practises, techniques and to some extent, values being widely adopted. When combined with product discovery and experimentation techniques your organisation can ensure you get the right products efficiently into the hands of your customers sooner.


Reliability and quality become increasingly important as you scale your customer base. If your company is going to succeed it is important to continuously innovate faster than your competitors to retain those customers. DevOps can assist by reducing delivery cycles, increasing team ownership of the whole software development process and increasing quality.

Market changes and tech disruption requires us to move 10 times faster at 10 times the scale while holding operations teams stable — Accelerate by Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, and Gene Kim

DevOps relies on the integration of development and operations which requires the establishment of shared goals across teams. Historically development teams were measured on speed to market and operations teams were measured on the ability to keep systems stable. One of the foundations for DevOps is introducing a culture of shared responsibility which means common business goals for both development and operations teams.

The CALMS conceptual framework (credited to Jez Humble, co-author of The DevOps Handbook) emphasises culture alongside four other pillars required for an organisation to be ready for the adoption of DevOps. The five pillars of the CALMS framework include:

Culture: There exists a culture of shared responsibility for the customer value chain.

Automation: The team explores ways to automate as much of the software pipeline as possible. Automation plays a key role in keeping operations costs down as you scale. Automating the process to move software from code check-in to running reliably in production means teams have full visibility of the release pipeline and can respond proactively to defects detected as close to the source of creation as possible.

Lean: Lean brings attention to the flow of changes through the whole system and looks to visualise WIP(Work in progress), limit batch sizes, and manage queue lengths.

Measurement: Monitoring across applications and infrastructure allows data to be collected across everything and system health to be proactively checked and maintained. While there are many metrics that can be valuable to customers, the organisation research and extensive data analysis completed as part of the book Accelerate by Forsgren, et al., describe four key software delivery performance metrics:

  • Lead time for changes

  • Deployment frequency

  • Time to restore service

  • Change failure rate

Sharing: A sharing focus means removing barriers to effective communication and increasing collaboration. This could mean co-location of your teams, common collaboration tools, and common ways of working.

Whiteboard people exists to help Enterprise move their Ideas to Value sooner. Collaboration and co-design are at the heart of how we work and as such we have collaborated on this article with S3 Consult. S3 Consult specialises in the application of Lean methods across a variety of business sectors.

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