DevOps Lean Principles: Why Lean is The Secret Sauce for DevOps Success

Discover the synergy between Lean Management & DevOps & how they can optimize & streamline your DevOps processes for efficiency & productivity.



Lean management principles have set the stage for a DevOps revolution that now redefines efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

Lean, one of the key frameworks for achieving efficiency and productivity, is a methodology focused on optimizing systems to eliminate waste, increase consistency, and improve overall performance. This approach is not only relevant to manufacturing but has also been adapted to technology applications in various domains, including product development.  

Let’s explore how Lean principles are being applied in ongoing movements like DevOps, Agile Development, and FinOps to drive impactful results. 

Understanding Lean Principles

Before diving into specific applications, it's crucial to have a solid grasp of Lean principles.

What Are Lean Principles?

Lean principles, popularized by automotive manufacturer Toyota’s Toyota Production System (TPS), are a set of guidelines for organizations that focus on maximizing value while minimizing waste. 

This starts with a core understanding of what your customer truly values, then mapping out the processes that ensure a smooth flow of work to get it done. 

During that phase, it’s most important to align any production with actual demand so you can focus on efficiency and lean development rather than accumulating waste. 

Lean principles revolve around these concepts:

  • Increasing throughput: Throughput is a crucial factor in any business process. Organizations often underestimate the impact of the other goals on throughput when they are working to optimize the volume of work getting done. This can lead to unintentionally reducing throughput by focusing on a single metric instead of optimizing with an understanding of the entire system.
  • Decreasing cycle time: Optimizing the duration for a specific task or process to move from start to completion can transform your efficiency and reduce delays. By decreasing cycle time, you can respond more quickly to customer demands, improve resource utilization, decrease inventory and waste within the system, and increase the frequency of tasks or project completion.
  • Reducing waste: Waste can take many forms, from unnecessary processes to defects and reworks. Identifying and eliminating waste helps generate more throughput without investing in more capacity.
  • Reducing inventory: Inventory in a technology context represents work that's been started but has yet to be completed. Think of this as everything in your work system (documentation, task management, etc.) that needs to be deployed to production and provide value to customers. By keeping inventory levels low, you can prevent overproduction and reduce capital tied up in unfinished work.
  • Due date performance: This allows you to ensure tasks, projects, or deliverables are completed within the designated timeframes or deadlines. Improving due date performance enhances reliability, customer satisfaction, and overall operational effectiveness.
  • Understand the constraint: Optimizing any of the aforementioned areas only helps if it impacts the current constraint(s) to the system. A constraint, or “bottleneck” is the place with the least capacity in your flow of work and your system can never exceed the results delivered by that one step no matter how well performing they are in local measurements.

Implementing Lean principles starts with understanding the system you are operating in and its constraints, and then optimizing your workflow in ways that optimize for that constraint so you can increase the results delivered by the entire system. 

This is a constant cycle as you improve. What was the constraint yesterday may not be the constraint tomorrow, which is why many organizations implement lean as a continuous improvement program within the organization.

The Synergy Between Lean Management and DevOps

DevOps is not merely a set of tools, but a philosophy deeply rooted in Lean principles. It focuses on automation and “pushing left” in the development cycle, with practices like early testing to reduce the rework waste, which is common when delivering features to production. 

However, some blockers and bottlenecks may come up along the way, which must be addressed promptly to avoid any inefficiency or slowed-down processes. 

Most Common Sources of Waste in DevOps

There are two primary ways to think about waste in DevOps:

  1. Rework waste: Rework waste occurs when a product or task has to go through some part of the process again due to a detected error or defect. This is highly wasteful, as it consumes the resources, time, and effort invested in the initial process. It not only delays progress but also increases the likelihood of further inefficiencies.
  2. Process waste: Process waste involves expending time, effort, and resources at one or more work centers due to quality issues that arise upstream in the production or development process. It encompasses re-evaluation, rework, and reassessment, contributing to inefficiencies, increased inventory, and prolonged cycle times. Addressing process waste impacting the bottleneck or any step after it in the flow of work is crucial for optimizing the results delivered by the system.

Businesses can significantly reduce rework and improve the overall user experience by identifying and rectifying issues and waste early so that they are caught before they reach the bottleneck or any downstream steps in the flow of work.

Identifying and Addressing Bottlenecks in DevOps

Bottlenecks exist in any process and act as the upper limit of performance for the entire system. This is explained well in the Theory of Constraints

This theory suggests that every process naturally has some limitations or 'bottlenecks'. While it's different from Lean principles, it has become a key part of effective methods. To really improve the outcomes of any system, understanding and addressing these bottlenecks is essential.

Consider a five-step process where step two must operate at full capacity (thus, is a bottleneck). This system can be optimized in different ways at and on either side of the constraint:

  • Before the bottleneck, systems can be put in place to reduce the waste due to process errors at the constraint or downstream steps. In a software example where the development throughput is the constraint, proper validation of product requirements before work starts prevents waste of the bottleneck and all downstream steps before value is achieved by the customer. Even if that means more time spent by the product team, if they have spare capacity and it reduces the error rate downstream it will improve the results delivered by the system.
  • At the bottleneck, you can increase throughput (up until the step stops becoming the bottleneck), or reduce process waste due to errors at the bottleneck or downstream steps. A software example when development is the example would be to bring in an external software development team. However, this will only deliver as much results as can be supplied by upstream processes and supported by downstream processes.
  • After the bottleneck, it’s all about reduction of process errors and decreasing cycle time. Decreasing cycle time allows your customer to start receiving value earlier and reduces the amount of inventory you hold in your system. Every time you reduce the process errors your improve the results delivered by the entire system since all process errors downstream of the bottleneck reduce the results delivered by the entire system. 

Always consider the level of effort vs. difference in the overall results delivered by the system when looking at improvements to ensure the optimization you are focused on will plausibly return enough value to justify the effort.

If you are not careful, it is easy to create waste by optimizing for a measure that doesn’t adequately improve upon  a constraint in the performance of the system. 

It is also important you are looking at the end results of the business when evaluating the value of a change. For example, investing in expanding the technology organization may increase the throughput of the entire system, but if the work they are doing isn’t valuable to the customer it still isn’t delivering results to the business.

4 Key Benefits of Applying Lean Principles to DevOps

Utilizing Lean principles in DevOps yields numerous advantages. These include:

  • Reducing waste in a way that impacts the bottleneck both increases capital efficiency and also increases throughput. Increased throughput means getting more work done.
  • Decreasing cycle time means decreasing time to value for any given feature and helps to reduce inventory in the form of work in process.
  • Decreasing inventory reduces the overall capital being carried on the company’s balance sheet which is not currently delivering value, and decreases the cost of large directional changes by reducing the amount of work thrown away without ever delivering value.
  • Due date performance helps to reduce inefficiencies and waste in all connecting systems like sales and marketing.

These benefits fortify the synergy between development, operations, customers, and stakeholders.

Properly applying Lean Principles and the Theory of Constraints helps you to always work on the right things, get more done, deliver more value to customers, and expend less resources relative to the value created while doing it.

Lean Management in Product Development & FinOps

The integration of Lean principles has emerged as a transformative approach for product development and FinOps. Let’s look at how Lean methodologies contribute to efficiency, risk mitigation, and resource optimization in both areas. 

Lean Product Development

Lean Product Development entails incorporating Lean principles into creating new products or features. By prioritizing testing and validation very early in the cycle while an idea is still just inside of product, businesses can ensure that resources are allocated to ideas proven to provide value. This reduces the risk of investing time and capital into unproven concepts.

Lean FinOps

FinOps combines Lean principles with a management framework focused on metrics. By applying Lean thinking to financial operations, businesses can optimize processes and reduce waste associated with financial transactions and reporting. For example, incorporating tools and process to help plan for costs and detect potential issues before provisioning resources helps reduce your overall spend by “pushing left” to reduce your error rate (unexpected overspending).

Where to Get Started with Lean in DevOps

If you’re focusing on Lean success within DevOps, employing the right metrics is crucial. These key indicators gauge progress and offer valuable insights for refinement and further optimizations and improvements. 

Our recommendation is to add measures to your systems of work to better understand how value is delivered and where the bottleneck is, but this is something that has to be matured over time. To get started, we recommend you adopt the DORA metrics. 

DORA metrics, released by the DevOps Research and Assessment Institute, include, deployment frequency, lead time for changes, change failure rate, and time to restore services when you’ve experienced an outage. They provide a leading indicator of delivery performance and are widely available out of the box with many project management and technology platforms. 

There are also good benchmarks for these to help you understand “what good looks like” for these leading indicators as you mature your process of identifying and optimizing for bottlenecks so you understand how you are improving relative to the market.

DevOps Lean Principles Why Lean is The Secret Sauce for DevOps Success 2

StratusGrid Can Help Your Company Master Lean Principles

By embracing Lean principles, businesses can deliver more value to their customers and achieve increased results. Whether applied in DevOps, product development, or financial operations, the core components of Lean provide a solid framework for continuous improvement. Remember, success lies not just in implementing Lean but in understanding how to prioritize improvements to achieve the most significant impact. 

But understanding these principles and applying them effectively to your AWS projects can be a complex endeavor. That's where StratusGrid steps in. With deep expertise in AWS deployments, workload structuring, and developing resilient platforms, we're equipped to bring your vision to life.

Don't let complexity hold you back. Contact StratusGrid today, and let's embark on a journey to streamline your operations, deliver exceptional value to your customers, and achieve remarkable results for your business.


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