9 min. read


What is Lean Software Development?

What is Lean Software Development?



Lean Software Development is a lightweight, Agile framework that focuses on reducing time and resources, eliminating waste, and ultimately delivering only what the product needs. The Lean approach is often applied as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) technique, in which a team creates a barely functioning prototype and offers it to the market. The team then gathers feedback from customers about what they enjoy, dislike, and want to see improved and iterates based on this information.

If you don’t know what a prototype is, check our article “What is prototype?” from which you will learn exactly what a prototype is, why it is worth creating and how to make it right. This is an article from our Discovery Workshop series.

The Lean software development methodology is rooted in the manufacturing sector, which invented the Lean development process to improve manufacturing and assembly lines to minimize waste and maximize client value. It was initially called the Toyota Production System since automobile manufacturer Toyota created it to reduce time and resources spent on manufacturing automobiles.

Lean software development is a software engineering approach that prioritizes waste reduction. Toyota developed it in the late 1940s and early 1950s as part of the Toyota Production System. It was first introduced in Japan by Taiichi Ohno. Over time, like many other manufacturing enterprises from various sectors adopted it, the name evolved to Lean. The method was initially used to create software in 2003 with the publication of Lean Software Development.

The Lean development methodology is one of the approaches in Agile philosophy.

Lean development principles

Principles of Lean Development

The software development process can be based on the Lean development methodology. Foundations of that approach: We can bullet points in seven Lean principles adapted from Lean manufacturing by Mary and Tom Poppendieck.

Eliminate Waste

Anything that does not enhance the product's value is waste. The client determines the value of a product. Waste reduction, the first tenet in Lean engineering, has its primary objective. The technique strives to reduce or prevent these nine kinds of waste.

  • Unnecessary features and code
  • More tasks in the log than can be completed
  • Delays in the engineering process
  • Vague requirements
  • Inefficient communication
  • Issues with quality
  • Unneeded and crippling bureaucracy
  • Data duplications
  • Costs of aforementioned

After each short iteration, project managers hold regular meetings (one of the Lean development practices) to identify and eliminate waste. They enable team members to report their progress, highlight bottlenecks, and suggest changes for the next iterations, allowing them to learn and enabling code modifications to be implemented in small, manageable steps.

Build Quality In

The quality and consistency of the final product are about achieving a balance between the application functions, its reliability, and the economic value created for the company's client. Consistency is understood here as a combination of elements such as the quality of the architecture (is it easy to maintain, easy to extend, etc.), customer satisfaction with the product both at the time of delivery and for a long time afterward, and the usability of the application.

Lean employs a variety of approaches and practices custom software development to guarantee that quality is maintained throughout the process, including Lean development methodologies. Engineering is kept flexible. Every small iteration, or loop, is followed by an immediate evaluation. The gap between software development phases is continuously reduced as feasible, with trade-offs (temporary sacrifices in terms of time, costs, and scope) discussed and considered regularly.

To resolve bugs before they occur, you may use Pair Programming or Test-driven Development.

Pair programming, sometimes known as "two heads better than one," is a concept in software engineering. Each activity is carried out by two developers, each with a unique mix of experience that aids them in figuring out smarter solutions, anticipating difficulties sooner, and delivering higher quality than either individual could accomplish alone.

Test-driven development reverses the "build, then examine" technique. Tests are written before the code is developed, allowing an engineer to anticipate all potential outcomes while developing.

Create Knowledge

Creating software is also a learning process. We get to know a new organization, new rules governing a given business for which we make an application. Therefore, it is essential to get the best possible feedback. It can be achieved by using frequent and short iterations, culminating in implementing a newly created product. Suppose the new functionality developed in the N-th iteration is implemented. In that case, we will immediately receive feedback from the client, thanks to which we will be able to verify whether the knowledge we have acquired is correct and whether our client's expectations have been met.

Defer Commitment

When developing software, the team must decide what technology to use, which database to connect the product to, and what architectures and frameworks to base the final product on. At a given stage of the project implementation, we often do not have enough knowledge to make decisions and follow the chosen path. Therefore, according to Lean principles, decisions should be postponed as long as possible while maintaining the software in such a state that it will be easy to adapt to changes that will result from the final decision. In other words, delaying with commitment leaves room for improvement by postponing irreversible decisions until all the needed experimentation is done and as much info as possible is gathered.

Deliver Fast

The measure of the maturity of a trustworthy IT company is the speed of responding to the client's needs. It is recommended to deliver the product quickly and in small chunks by implementing them in individual iterations. After quick implementation, the customer will immediately know whether the implemented part of the product is what he thought about or whether the customer's needs were not correctly read. Thanks to this, we will avoid painful changes in customer requirements.

Respect People

A self-organizing team is an excellent team, so the team should be delegated the authority to decide who does what and what they are responsible for. Committed members of the team constitute its most significant value. People who provide added value should be able to use their full potential and support them as much as possible. Establishing a cooperative atmosphere and maintaining the correct control balance in a project isn't easy. Developers should be allowed to do what they want, but they should also be required to inform you, the client, and managers about their decisions; it's up to you as the client to decide whether or not that is acceptable.

Optimizing the entire value stream

You should see the product as a whole. As far as possible, this applies to all team members creating it. Technological solutions and opportunities should be well balanced. It is necessary to avoid optimizing a specific part of the system functionality at the expense of its entirety.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Lean Software Development?

We can list the pros and cons of any software development process approach.

Advantages include:

  • A streamlined approach allows more functionality to be delivered in less time
  • Eliminates unnecessary activity, and as a result, can reduce costs
  • Empowers the development team to make decisions, which can also boost morale

Disadvantages include:

  • Heavily depends on the team involved, making it not as scalable as other frameworks
  • Strong documentation is required, and failure to do so may result in mistakes.

Lean thinking vs Lean development vs Lean startup vs Lean product management

 Lean is a buzzword?

In software development, "Lean" has become a buzzword of sorts. We have Lean thinking, Lean development, Lean startup. Lean product management, are they all the same? In a long story short: no.

Are they all the same? In short: no. They were, however, derived from one another to some extent.

Lean thinking is a philosophy that emerged in the manufacturing sector in the 1950s as a reaction to the traditional project management, linear production method known as waterfall. Lean thinking revolutionized manufacturing before spreading to other disciplines such as management techniques and software development. Lean thinking is where Lean development, Lean management, Lean UX, and Lean startup were formed.

At the highest level, Lean thinking's objective is to provide value to clients in less time with less waste and higher quality. It's about putting a process in place that ensures value isn't lost or team morale is maintained as products move through the delivery cycle.

Lean is a mindset that emphasizes rigorous learning, creativity, and flexibility. It's based on core beliefs and values. Depending on what an organization (or individual manager) wants to accomplish, the principles and values can be utilized with tried-and-true tools and approaches.

The Lean principles outlined above are the foundation of Lean methods such as Lean startup, Lean UX, and software development.

  1. Consider the customer's perspective. Value is defined as what a client is prepared to pay for. Development teams use qualitative and quantitative research to determine this value.
  2. Mapping the value stream is next. Turning a "value" into a measurable objective for the team to pursue will be described later in this chapter. The next step is to map out all of the present phases that go into conceiving and delivering a feature or update once the original value has been defined and turned into a tangible goal for the team. By studying them, teams may use flowcharts to identify bottlenecks, pain spots, and delays in their delivery process.
  3. Flow is achieved when tasks are performed in a smooth, continuous sequence. The process of detecting and reducing bottlenecks and pain spots is known as flow improvement. Teams can produce features much more quickly if they think about and improve the internal delivery process.
  4. Create a pull. Once the flow is established, the team will only focus on projects when the client's demand for them has been determined—rather than depending too much on market and competition projections.
  5. Seek perfection: At this point, value has been determined, value streams have been drawn up, wasteful activities have been removed, and flow and pull systems are in place. To pursue perfection entails repeating this procedure many times until the most significant possible profit is achieved without creating any waste.

The values are more specialized to sort of job, but they're still firmly rooted in the principles behind Lean software development. On the other hand, Lean development is concerned with the project's technical and human elements. 

Above, we discuss 7 established Lean software development principles for building more efficient products. Therefore, we will not duplicate it here.

And finally, Lean startup. It is a method developed by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup, published in 2011. It's mostly for new product development teams and startups that haven't yet created a finished product. This approach aims to verify the initial assumptions made by startups. At the same time, they're still at the early phases of their lifecycle to ensure that what they're creating solves actual user problems. Learning, rather than delivering all the time, is more crucial to long-term success for product teams under this strategy.


Lean is the process of applying a scientific experimentation approach to find optimal solutions to user problems. The primary objective of being Lean for organizations isn't to overwork and under-fund teams with tight deadlines and unrealistic expectations; it's to establish a product culture that encourages experimenting and analyzing results.  On the other hand, the Lean Agile methodology focuses on the people who use your application. It's not simply about implementing a new method; it's also about having the right people to make it work. As a result, seek experience and competence when hiring a team to develop your program; professionals who are dedicated to continuous improvement and qualified enough to embrace Lean's fundamental principles of delivering as much value as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Numerous organizations have used the Lean Software Development approach as a great method to develop software because of its streamlining of the procedure and forcing the team to cut away any nonessential work ruthlessly. However, for this technique to be effective, an exceptional development staff must trust those individuals.

About the author
Peter Koffer - Chief Technology Officer

With 13 years of experience in the IT industry and in-depth technical training, Peter could not be anything but our CTO. He had contact with every possible architecture and helped create many solutions for large and small companies. His daily duties include managing clients' projects, consulting on technical issues, and managing a team of highly qualified developers.

Piotr Koffer

Share this article


mDevelopers logo

Software development company

Clutch mDevelopers

We’ve been in the business for over 13 years and have delivered over 200 mobile and web projects. We know what it takes to be a reliable software partner.


By using this website, you automatically accept that we use cookies.