7 Principles of Lean Software Development

Adopting lean principles is a great place to start if you want to improve the efficiency of software development teams, optimize your processes, and provide value to end users. Popularized more than two decades ago, lean software development principles have continuously been used by developers to adapt to predictable changes in their development process.

There are many reasons why you should pay attention to these principles too. A case study showed that Agile teams using lean principles had twice the productivity and 40% fewer defects than conventional teams. This guide will explore the seven principles of lean software development and provide quick insight to integrate them into your workflows.

What is Lean Software Development?

Lean software development is a set of principles codified in a book by Tom and Mary Poppendieck in 2003 to guide the decisions of software development teams, especially product managers. Adapted from Toyota’s management philosophy, lean software development principles and objectives recognize that developers operate within a broader social and ethical context. As such, they have a responsibility to consider the impact of their actions on the product development process and the stakeholders involved. Call it fostering a win-win situation if you like.

As you will see later in this article, lean principles in software development have become widely accepted because it’s people-oriented and also provides a structure for decision-making and problem-solving for product managers and their team. It’s often adopted alongside agile, another popular project management methodology.

Agile and lean principles have become almost identical twins in software development. However, the clarifying difference is that agile primarily focuses on building software that meets the ever-changing needs of users. However, the seven principles of lean consider providing value for all stakeholders in software development, including the development team and users.

 7 Lean Principles In Software Development

1. Eliminate Waste

This first principle is simple. Skip any activities or processes not adding value to product development. For example, no time should be left for unnecessary meetings and check-ins during the different phases of product development. From the outset, identify the most important, core features to the end user. Then, allocate resources accordingly to the team members.

But this lean principle goes further than that and must be applied based on the specificities of the project hand. For many developers, however, value-steam mapping is the best way to eliminate waste. Cross-functional teams can use it to visualize the activities that contribute value and prioritize accordingly.

2. Build Quality In

Bringing value to users means building products that pass quality assurance tests from the beginning to the end of the development process. This principle emphasizes fixing code bugs or other defects as they happen. A developer must take responsibility for rectifying any errors in the code rather than expecting someone else to handle it at a later stage.

A common approach to ensure quality is testing the product with a select group of users. These users then provide feedback and identify any issues or areas for improvement. Google is currently doing this with its generative AI product, Bard. The developers in charge of the new AI product are pushing for more feedback from the public to test its capabilities and identify any potential issues or limitations.

Other methods developers use to apply these principles are code refactoring, pair programming, test-driven development, and continuous integration (CI).

3. Create Knowledge

The third principle focuses on facilitating a tailored learning experience for each project. Document and leverage this for future reference. In plain English, software development teams should create a knowledge-sharing framework. This can include:

  • repository for project information,
  • regular training events
  • code reviews
  • pair programming sessions

4. Defer Commitment

This principle is based on the idea that product needs are subject to various uncertainties. Additionally, you need to take care when it comes to making binding business decisions at the early stage of project development. For example, for a software product manager, this principle potentially means avoiding making final decisions about which features to include in a new software release until gathering convincing information from user feedback or market research.

5. Deliver Fast

Speed is of the essence in software development. So do you wonder why Google quickly decided to release its own version of generative AI shortly after the launch of ChatGPT by OpenAI?

Project managers are on their toes to deliver software solutions fast so that customers don’t seek out competitors’ offerings, let alone rely on them. This is a core principle of software development.

This principle of “Deliver Fast” also emphasizes doing things in the right way to avoid building products that are not reliable. Google, for example, made a mistake while launching Bard. In its first demo, Bard provided inaccurate information about the discovery of exoplanets in the company’s demo. Due to this factual error, Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) market value decreased by $100 billion.

6. Respect People

It is now common for employees in software development to experience burnout, with around 80% being affected. Worse still, developers may require several months or even years to recover from burnout symptoms. So, how to help the development team member to manage burnout?

This sixth principle of lean software development offers a solution. It encourages leaders to recognize the value of individuals, their contributions to the team, and the importance of empowering them. Achieve this by embracing automation, establishing flexible timelines, and encouraging work-life balance.

7. Optimize the Whole

Finally, the seventh principle of lean highlights the need to consider the entire system instead of focusing only on the parts during software optimization. In other words, if a bug is needed to be fixed for a particular software component, it is important to evaluate how it affects the system as a whole and not just that individual component. Having a cross-functional team that embraces synergetic collaboration is essential here.


The principle of lean software development help prioritizes value over waste. The focus is on delivering maximum value to the customer with minimal waste in the development process. Combining agile methodologies with these lean principles is like a driver using a GPS to navigate a complex route. Both approaches are ever-green for software development teams to make effective decisions.