Lean Software Management BBC Worldwide Case Study

Dr Peter Middleton and I have had our “Lean Software Management BBC Worldwide Case Study” paper accepted by the IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management. It will be published in the February 2012 issue. The paper was edited by Dr Jeffrey K Liker, author of the Toyota Way.

You can download a copy of the paper prior to its publication here.

I believe it will be one of the most significant papers in Software Engineering this decade.

David Anderson


This case study examines how the lean ideas behind the Toyota production system can be applied to software project management. It is a detailed investigation of the performance of a nine person software development team employed by BBC Worldwide based in London. The data collected in 2009 involved direct observations of the development team, the kanban boards, the daily stand-up meetings, semistructured interviews with a wide variety of staff, and statistical analysis.

The evidence shows that over the 12-month period, lead time to deliver software improved by 37%, consistency of delivery rose by 47%, and defects reported by customers fell 24%.

The significance of this work is showing that the use of lean methods including visual management, team-based problem solving, smaller batch sizes, and statistical process control can improve software development. It also summarizes key differences between agile and lean approaches to software development. The conclusion is that the performance of the software development team was improved by adopting a lean approach. The faster delivery with a focus on creating the highest value to the customer also reduced both technical and market risks. The drawbacks are that it may not fit well with existing corporate standards.

Value Delivered

The paper doesn’t include the increase in business value delivered over the period of study. This was due to confidentiality agreements. What I can say is that during the period of study, the digital assets produced rose by hundred of thousands of hours of content, a 610% increase in valuable assets output by software products written by the team.


Peter Middleton received the M.B.A. degree from the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, in 1987, and the Ph.D. degree in software engineering from Imperial College, London, U.K., in 1998.

He is currently a Senior Lecturer in computer science at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the coauthor of the book Lean Software Strategies published in 2005, and the Editor of a book of case studies on applied systems thinking: the Delivering Public Services that Work published in 2010. His research interests include combining systems thinking with lean software development to help organizations significantly improve their performance.

David Joyce is a Systems Thinker and Agile practitioner with 20 years software development experience of which 12 years is technical team management and coaching experience. In recent years, David has led both onshore and offshore teams and successfully led an internet video startup from inception to launch. More recently David has coached teams on Lean, Kanban and Systems Thinking at BBC Worldwide in the U.K. He is a Principal Consultant at ThoughtWorks.

Mr. Joyce was awarded the Lean SSC Brickell Key award for outstanding achievement and leadership

14 Principles, 5 Principles, 5 Pillars, Which do you use?

I have read various books, articles, blog posts, slide decks, or attended presentations, or have spoken to Lean practitioners who tell me about Lean’s 14 Principles, or Lean’s 5 Principles, or the 5 Pillars of Lean. This can become very confusing and typifies our lack of understanding of the TPS. Which do you use?

Dr Peter Middleton (coauthor of the book Lean Software Strategies) writes

There is no pure lean approach as demonstrated by the different descriptions of lean in the literature, which identifies a range of overlapping lean principles.

For example, Liker [1] has 14 principles, Womack and Jones [2] have five principles,  Shingo [3] also has five but different principles, and Anderson has five pillars [4]

Ohno’s [5] focus was to reduce the time from customer order to product delivery by eliminating waste. Arguably he preached many principles, even though they are not laid out as such.

The complexity of analysing lean is due to the specifics of each lean implementation being context dependent.

When Toyota was setting up a new plant in America, Liker and Hoseus noted that Toyota ‘‘. . .were not interested in teaching us to copy. They were trying to teach us to think and act in the Toyota Way’’ [6, p. xxii].

Therefore, for Toyota, it was more a philosophy of management combined with their experience of what was successful that was important.

Ohno was never keen on codifying method for the above reasons. John Seddon says

Ohno said “Don’t call it anything. If you call it something, managers will expect it to come in a box. He was right.”

Deming reminds us about the hazards of copying in his book Out of the Crisis.

Improvement of quality is a method, transferable to different problems and circumstances. It does not consist of cookbook procedures on file ready for specific application.

It is a hazard to copy. It is necessary to understand the theory of what one wishes to do or make. We are great copiers. The fact is that the Japanese learn the theory of what they wish to make, then improve on it.

This idea of copying reminds me of a great story from Deming, again in his book Out of the Crisis.

The management of a company that makes furniture, doing well, took it into their heads to expand their line into pianos. Why not make pianos? They bought a Steinway piano, took it apart, made or bought parts, and put a piano together exactly like the Steinway, only to discover that they could only get thuds out of their product. So they put the Steinway piano back together with the intention to get their money back on it, only to discover that it too would now only make thuds.

[1] J. K. Liker, The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

[2] J. P. Womack and D. T. Jones, Lean Thinking. London: Touchstone Books, 1997.

[3] S. Shingo, A Study of the Toyota Production System. Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press, 1981.

[4] David J Anderson, Is Kanban Just a Tool? http://agilemanagement.net/index.php/Blog/is_kanban_just_a_tool/

[5] T. Ohno, Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production. Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press, 1988.

[6] J. K. Liker and M. Hoseus, Toyota Culture: the Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Lean is About Eliminating Waste Right?

Waste Elimination

Some people think that waste elimination is what Lean is all about. This is music to managers ears. What manager or leader would not jump at the chance of finding waste in their organisation, having it removed, and reducing costs as a result? As a consequence Lean consultants enter an organisation, waste is found; for example staff are found sat around doing nothing or waiting for something or not “behaving” efficiently, and the waste is removed (often as a consequence FTEs are removed) and success is claimed. But does this lead to being more effective?

This has bothered me for sometime. I have met many Lean consultants who talk only of waste elimination, they know nothing about the need for understanding customer demand and have little appreciation of the differences between being effective vs being efficient. Many have only read books written about the TPS, and have little or no knowledge of Taylor, Ford, Sloan, Deming, Taguchi and Ohno.

Here is what I’m often told by Lean consultants

  • Work = Value Adding Work + Non Value Adding Work (waste)
  • Lead time = Value Adding Time + Non Value Adding Time (waste)
  • Reducing non Value Adding time will increase efficiency

Is this correct? Here is an interesting extract from a recent post by Jim Womack (co-authored the book “The Machine that Changed the World”).

“20 years later, it’s striking to me how much effort we’ve expended on eliminating muda (waste) and how little attention we have given to mura (unevenness) and muri (overburden).”

“In short, unevenness and overburden are now the root causes of waste in many organizations. Even worse they put waste back that managers and operations teams have already eliminated once.”

“I have the following advice for managers — especially senior managers — trying to create lean businesses: Take a careful look at your mura and your muri as you start to tackle your muda.”

A powerful post. Jim is articulating what I have felt uneasy about.

Jeffrey Liker has also recently published an article “Why Lean Programs Fail”

A large survey conducted by Industry Week in 2007 found that only 2 percent of companies that have a lean program achieved their anticipated results. More recently, the Shingo Prize committee, which gives awards for excellence in lean manufacturing, went back to past winners and found that many had not sustained their progress after winning the award. The award criteria were subsequently changed.

Effective vs Efficiency

Dr. Keivan Zokaei from the Lean Enterprise Research Centre (founded by Daniel T Jones who co-authored the book The Machine That Changed the World) has much to say on the subject.

Efficiency thinking is setting the quality level as “good enough” we don’t need to strive for perfection. Effectiveness thinking is thinking about the lifetime of a product (and the effects on the whole organisation “system”) which in the long run will cost less. If we do it right first time (which might be more costly at the outset),  it actually saves our organisation money in the long run). Effectiveness is doing the right thing. Efficiency is doing things right.

Many “Lean” organisations could be doing the wrong things righter. Making things efficient that shouldn’t be done in the first place. Doing a lot of efficient things but not effective things. This is what Toyota turned on its head, following the work of Taguchi. Let’s do the right thing first, THEN we will make it efficient.

TPS is about being more effective. Focusing on quality first. This is where Toyota fell down recently. Volume (being number 1 by volume) became the goal. It used to be Safety, Quality, Volume. Toyoda has now returned the priorities back to the original order. [side note: NASA has recently released its highly anticipated report about the Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) charge in Toyota vehicles. The verdict was that Toyota’s electronic throttle control system is fully exonerated. The ten-month study by 30 NASA engineers found “no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations”]

Variation in Demand

With the focus on waste removal we are not looking at variation in demand. There are times in the process when sometimes demand increases capacity and other times it doesn’t. The problem with focusing only on waste removal, and not understanding demand, is that after waste removal, when a high level of demand comes in, the organisation cant cope, we clog up the flow, we introduce waste that we tried to remove in the first place!

Toyota bizarrely built in up to 50% extra capacity into their system. They called it 8-4-8-4 (8 hours of work, 4 hours to do other things). 50% waste built into the system! If a Lean consultant, who didn’t understand variation of demand, went into that organisation they would remove that “waste” and claim it as a success The result? Toyota wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as they are now.

Rather than utilising capacity it is better to be responsive, to be able to respond when demand arises; keeping spare capacity.

What would your boss say if you asked to have 20% spare capacity for times when demand might exceed your capacity? In the West its all too predictable what the response would be.

But, It’s what Ohno told us to do

Is it? What’s confusing is that Ohno did talk about Muda (waste); idle machines and idle people, which all looks like waste on the surface. But he also talked about having machines (and people) available when demand comes along, he talked about resourcing to the upper level (we are guaranteed to have someone/machine available when the work comes), which means that at times they would have to be idle.

Muri, Mura, Muda

Ohno talked about Muri (overburdening of people and equipment) being a root cause of waste. He talked about Mura (unevenness in operations) and the need for understanding fluctuations in demand, that variation needs to be understood well within the system. Ohno explained this is why Toyota went out to the dealerships to study that demand, with the aim of producing cars at the rate of customer demand.


Dr. Keivan Zokaei informs us that this is what Ohno really said, and he states that this isn’t in most Lean books or in Six Sigma training

Capacity – Load = Gap

  • Capacity = work + waste
  • Load = value demand + failure demand
  • Variation is the key, especially as utilisation approaches 80%
  • Work: not faster, but taking time to do good, error free, work that satisfies customers
  • Understand variability (Mura) in capability
  • Is there sufficient system capacity to handle the load?
  • Waste: not all waste elimination adds to capacity
  • Gain intimate knowledge about your demand, smooth and get rid of unevenness (Mura)

This is counter intuitive, most managers want to sweat their assets, they want them to work 100%

They think we have x number of people, and they can do y number of jobs in a day, so that means they can get z amount of work done.

So, if they are thinking 100% what happens if your utilisation of your capacity, or capability, exceeds 80% ? You get a traffic jam effect. You have no buffer for any variation. When something comes through the system, everything just gets clogged up and stuck, and nothing moves effectively. Queues start happening, or you start multitasking without getting anything done. Cycle time goes shooting up. Even 80% is high, If you target anywhere around 80% of your capacity the chances are that things just fall apart. We know this scientifically, mathematically we can prove this, yet mangers ignore it.

If you work faster you are going to reduce quality. Instead we want to produce error free work, doing things right first time. This might prove more costly up front but saves us costs in the long run. This is exactly what Taguchi taught (the nominal value curve), what he won the Deming prize for, and what turned Toyota on its head where they redefined their definition of quality.

We want to avoid what Deming called making toast the American way

You Burn it and I’ll Scrape.

We need to understand variability or Mura. We need to understand the relationship between capacity and demand, by  studying demand being placed upon us and the variation in cycle times. We need to work on unevenness by going into the work (the shop floor) and experimenting.

Ohno taught rather than utilising capacity its better to be responsive, to be able to respond when demand arises; keeping spare capacity. [side note: Interestingly Ohno fought battles in Toyota to adopt this and first had to try it in Brazil to prove it worked, to then return to Japan.]

Ohno vs Efficiency Thinking

Efficiency Thinking: Traditional

  • Input / output. At a given input level (given capacity) maximise utilisation to increase output.

Effectiveness Thinking: TPS

  • Focus on delivering fast, responsive flow of service which will in turn reduce your Work In Progress (WIP) and improve profitability
  • Focus on “right first time”
  • You have to have “spare” capacity

What is the Real TPS (Lean)?

This is how Dr. Keivan Zokaei sums it up

  • Effectiveness thinking as apposed to efficiency thinking
  • Quality and safety first
  • Continuous improvement is a virtue in itself
  • Changing people’s thinking through doing if you want improvement

The Core of Lean is NOT about reducing waste, its about increasing capacity.

Dr W. Edwards Deming’s famous Red Bead Experiment

Here is a video of when I ran Dr W. Edwards Deming’s famous Red Bead Experiment at Agile Sydney. The quality of the filming isn’t of professional quality, but many thanks to Rowan Bunning for the ad-hoc filming. I ran the experiment last year at Agile Sydney, Lean and Kanban Belgium, LESS 2010 Helsinki, Agile Australia, and at a number of clients. The learning is always good, even more so when it’s a fun experiment to take part in and watch. The experiment is followed by a discussion on the theory of variation.

I’ve submitted a proposal to run the experiment again at Agile 2011

Some great comments from those that attended.

Why aren’t we all working for learning organisations?

This paper by Professor John Seddon and Brendan O’Donovan is a great read. An excerpt is below.

In Peter Senge’s best-seller The Fifth Discipline (Senge, 1990), he popularised the idea of the ‘learning organization’. In the book, Senge defined learning organisations as

…organisations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.

Learning in this context has a specific meaning for Senge, which he terms ‘metanoia’, a Greek word meaning ‘a shift of mind’. A learning organisation is therefore

… an organisation that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future.
For such an organisation, it is not enough merely to survive. ‘Survival learning’ or what is more often termed ‘adaptive learning’ is important indeed it is necessary. But for a learning organization, ‘adaptive learning’ must be joined by ‘generative learning’, learning that enhances our capacity to create.

Getting organisations to ‘shift their minds’ in order to produce both adaptive and generative learning was the intent of Senge’s work twenty years ago. Fortune magazine went as far as predicting that

…the most successful corporation of the 1990s will be something called a learning organization, a consummately adaptive enterprise.

So why is it that these predictions do not appear to have materialised in 2010? Why do we not see examples of learning organisations all around us?

We believe that the biggest clue as to why we are not all ‘learning organizations’ was given by W Edwards Deming, one of the original reviewers of the book back in 1990. As Senge commented after reading Deming’s review, he

…slowly started to realize (Deming) had unveiled a deeper layer of connections, and a bigger task, than I (Senge) had previously understood

Deming’s review said

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers – a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars – and on up through the university.
On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

It is our contention that Senge’s work did not tell managers how to tackle this “deeper layer of connections” that was necessary before they could become a ‘learning organisation’.
However, a combination of the works of Chris Argyris (Argyris 1999) on intervention theory and Deming’s own systems perspective on management can provide us with a way forward.

What matters to your customers?

I love this story told to me by Bridget Kelly, a Systems Thinker, about what matters to your customers.

A ten year old boy was strolling through the park. He was wandering aimlessly along kicking stones.

He had been doing this for some time when he noticed a large and unusual target. Just before he kicked it, he realized it was actually a frog. He bent down to pick it up whereupon he heard a voice say “Don’t kick me!” He couldn’t believe his ears and picked up the frog – the frog looked at him, its eyes pleading – “please don’t hurt me”. The boy was staggered – a talking frog! The frog spoke again. “Don’t hurt me. If you kiss me I’ll turn into a beautiful princess.”

The boy continued to stare at the frog in amazement. The frog pleaded again, “Kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful princess and do anything you want.” The boy simply tucked the frog in his pocket and carried on down the path kicking stones.

The frog jumped up and down in his pocket furiously. The boy finally took the frog from his pocket and brought it up to his face. “What’s the matter?” he asked the frog. The frog replied “I told you that if you kissed me I’d turn into a beautiful princess and I’ll do anything you like, but you just put me in your pocket – why?”

“I’d rather have a talking frog” said the boy.


So what matters to your customers?