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Rethinking the Software Development Cycle

By embracing the principles of lean manufacturing, Wipro Technologies learned how best to complete software projects.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Lean Principles, Learning, and Software Production: Evidence from Indian Software Services

Bradley R. Staats and David M. Upton

Harvard Business School, Working Paper No. 08-001

Date Published: 
March 2009

Is it possible to apply the lean manufacturing approach to software development? The authors of this paper spent several years analyzing software projects at Wipro Technologies, a large Indian software services company. Wipro trained selected groups of programmers and managers in lean development techniques, which called for dedicating small teams to specific tasks in an iterative production schedule. Each team reported its status daily on a “visual control board” that tracked the progress of each task, allowing everyone on the team to see the scope of projects and enabling project managers to solve problems early. Through interviews with dozens of employees, access to project updates, and data on the results of specific projects, the authors found that the lean development teams tended to finish products ahead of schedule and more efficiently. Additionally, those teams were able to implement testing and identify problems earlier in the production cycle than others. In some instances, Wipro also saw quality improvements in the lean projects. The authors theorize that Wipro — with more than 700 lean projects under way during the research period — could see additional benefits from lean practices as it improves its techniques over time.

Bottom Line:
By incorporating lean manufacturing principles into their software development process, Wipro employees finished projects faster, improved productivity, and, in some cases, improved product quality.

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