Lean Principles vs. DevOps for Project Management

Atlassian By Atlassian
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If you're a project manager, you've probably had a project go off the rails. The team scattered the project information among several tools. A stakeholder couldn't review the work on time, so the timeline crumbled. In the end, you would have wasted both resources and time.

Lean is the most prevalent methodology for increasing efficiency in project management. The five principles of Lean provide a framework for continuous improvement. What originated in car manufacturing is now used in various industries, including software development, but it's not the only method. 

There’s also DevOps, a combination of practices, tools, and cultural philosophies. DevOps builds on Lean methodology. It enables developers and IT teams to work collaboratively during a product’s lifecycle. With teams no longer siloed, this sends your product development into overdrive, increasing your ability to deliver projects faster.

We'll break down the differences between DevOps and Lean principles here so that you can choose the methodology that suits your project.

What is Lean project management?

Lean project management eliminates waste in product development, significantly speeding up delivery. 

The goal: catch problems before they cause severe damage. Doing so lets you make necessary adjustments to prevent project stalls.

Much like the Waterfall methodology, Lean is a structured process that organizes tasks and allows oversight. Instead of 5 common stages, Lean has 5 core principles.

What are the 5 Lean principles?

Lean revolves around 5 key principles: defining value, plotting the value stream, creating flow, adhering to a pull system, and staying in a state of continuous improvement.

Let's break down the Lean manufacturing principles, where the customer's value will be your barometer:

  1. Define a value: Which activities are time wasters? Which ones add value to the project? That's the distinction you must make here. Consider your customers. Does your effort provide value to them, whether directly or indirectly? “A trick when trying to identify value is to focus on eliminating wasteful activities,” says Atlassian’s Modern Work Coach Mark Cruth. “Look at the seven forms of waste and try to eliminate them from your process: waiting, transporting, processing, inventory, motion, defects/rework, and overproduction.”
  2. Map the value stream: The second principle requires a visualization of your customer value activities. This lets you keep the project on task and moving forward, especially if you use an Agile project management style, such as scrum. You can use a Kanban board, such as the one offered in Jira, for this.
  3. Create a flow: You want your project to flow seamlessly. Any blockage can be detrimental. Keep an eye out for any potential clots. If one occurs, analyze what caused it and how to avoid it. For example, clots tend to form while awaiting stakeholder feedback. Prevent this by limiting the chunks of work for review.
  4. Establish pull: Shoving new work on your team when they're at capacity can hinder flow. Start new work only when there's demand and your team has time. A pull system creates a work queue, meaning a team member without current work can pull the first high-priority ticket to focus on.
  5. Seek perfection: Continuous improvement is the foundation of Lean project management. You and your team should be better than you were yesterday. Analyze performance and identify opportunities for improvement. Remember, you want to ensure you're providing customer value. If something isn't working, examine why and make incremental changes based on that. KPI metrics are great to help you gauge Lean performance.

What is DevOps?

“Many methodologies and models can trace their roots back to Lean, which is why you will find the principles of Lean laced into every modern way of working” explains Cruth.

DevOps, for example, is the combination of practices, tools, and cultural philosophies designed to deliver more customer value quickly by breaking down the wall between development and operations teams. 

Under the DevOps model, developers are no longer siloed and participate in the entire software development lifecycle. This cross-functional approach helps teams accelerate time to market, ensure quality of delivery, and operate processes at scale.  DevOps also works well with other methods, so there's no need to choose between DevOps and Agile.

A DevOps team will use every tool in that box, from automated processes to tech stacks, to deliver results faster and more efficiently. With Open DevOps in Jira, developers can connect 170+ add-ons and third-party integrations to support all parts of the development process including planning, building, continuous integration, deployment, operations, feedback collection, and real-time communication.

DevOps vs. Lean principles

So, which one should you choose, Lean or DevOps? Let's compare the two.

  • Customer orientation: Both methods give importance to the customer. In Lean, you choose the customer value activities that matter. DevOps creates customer empathy image mapping, which breaks down business goals into something meaningful for the client.
  • Focus: Lean principles seek to optimize across the entire project. DevOps wants to integrate development and operations through cross-collaboration and documentation.
  • Execution vs. vision: Lean is all about improving execution for a better result, but DevOps has loftier goals. It leverages cross-functional teams and automation to effect systemic changes in a company.
  • Automation: DevOps is all about automation. Lean isn't. With automation, DevOps employs tech to check and deploy code, run tests, and pull requests. That way, someone on your team won’t need to do this manually.
  • Timelines: Lean timelines center around sprints, which could stretch into months. DevOps sometimes requires delivery on an hourly basis.

If you want a deeper dive into DevOps, we've created a beginner's guide to DevOps to help.

Incorporate Lean principles for project management

When it comes to choosing which methodology to use, consider how it affects your customers. Which method serves them best, a Lean approach or DevOps? Ultimately, it's all about the value you bring to them.

Whichever works best for delivering customer value, Atlassian's Jira can support you. It's adaptable to both Lean principles and DevOps.

Jira tracks projects and keeps your team aligned. They'll have visibility into your project's workload and progress. Teams collaborate across DevOps to QA for continuous integration, delivery, and deployment, and that accelerates your team's ability to deliver on schedule.

Lean principles: Frequently asked questions

Is DevOps or Lean better for project management?

If you’re looking to accelerate your team’s ability to deliver, DevOps would be your choice for project management. That’s because it 

  • Breaks down silos: Teams work collaboratively throughout the process. 
  • Creates feedback loops: Continuous feedback from the team and users helps improve deliverables. 
  • Automates mundane work: Automating tasks such as code deployment and pull requests frees up your team to focus on more important aspects of a project. 

DevOps works well for software development. If you're building a digital product, this would be the better choice. This is because of the emphasis on cross-team collaboration. In comparison, Lean focuses mostly on process improvements.

Use Open DevOps, powered by Jira, to keep your team shipping and operating high customer-value software.

What are the benefits of implementing Lean principles?

Lean principles allow your team to become a Lean, mean fighting machine. It does this through increased efficiency and improved team collaboration. You'll be able to mitigate risk and avoid bottlenecks. That protects the bottom line.

Lean principles will keep your team in a growth mindset through continuous improvement, helping them adapt faster and stay engaged.

But what is the main benefit of implementing Lean principles? A more loyal and satisfied customer base.

What are some common challenges of Lean implementation?

While Lean can be great for project management, it has a few challenges, which include

  • Lack of support: An unsupportive manager can ruin Lean activities. They become the keepers of all project information, so you must go through them to complete the work. 
    • Solution: Understand that change is hard for some. Have empathy and treat managers with respect to earn their trust. Show them the workflow gaps and how Lean mitigates them.
  • Improper training: Teams won't succeed when you thrust Lean on them without training. They'll flounder, causing even more bottlenecks.
    • Solution: Onboard your team through proper training in Lean principles. Create a “best practices” document for the team. Set expectations with the team before embarking on a Lean project. Provide a feedback loop.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Expecting your team to do more than they're capable of can also be a detriment.
    • Solution: Set realistic deadlines and goals. Review them with your team before, during, and after the project. Keep track of them weekly.
  • Overemphasis on tools. Tools are great, but they're better when used by people. Yet some Lean companies focus on tools rather than team culture.
    • Solution: Be transparent and build a culture of trust. Lean's philosophy of continuous improvement can help show your investment in the team's growth.