Identifying SDLC Life Cycle Waste

Eliminate waste you say? But what is waste?

We have all been asked at one point or another in our careers to help our companies eliminate waste. Most of us have also struggled with what that means.

Merriam-Webster’s online definition of waste:

  • loss of something valuable that occurs because too much of it is being used or because it is being used in a way that is not necessary or effective
  • an action or use that results in the unnecessary loss of something valuable
  • a situation in which something valuable is not being used or is being used in a way that is not appropriate or effective

Note that all three senses of the word employ the concept of “something valuable”. This should be suggestive to us. If we want to eliminate waste; the most important first step would be to define value. Only once we recognize value can we start using tools to help us “see” and then eliminate waste.

My experience has shown that one primary reason organizations are not truly able to eliminate waste is because there is no consensus on what is valuable.

This is an indictment of the management team. As leaders, first and foremost of our responsibilities is to ensure that our teams understand our company’s value proposition.

“What is Value” Should be Reflected in Our Goals

The message of what we value and why we value it has to come from our corporate goals. What we value should be reflected in the specific goals of each project that we take on and must be our focus for each and every process improvement initiative that we consider.

The Importance of Defining Value

Here is an example of the importance of having the correct perspective on value. One quality assurance team that I am familiar with were directed to look at their processes with the mandate to “eliminate waste”. They found that a good deal of time was being “wasted” with communication churn on defects generated during user acceptance testing. Their defect tracking system showed, on a very consistent basis, that developers and testers exchanged a defect multiple times, often over the course of days, in an effort to get clarity on the defect so that the developer could start to work on a fix.

This is waste, for sure, if the organization valued good communication of defects. But good descriptions of defects are not valuable to an organization. They are notoriously hard to turn into revenue for instance.

Seeing the Value is Like Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Sometimes it is as hard seeing the value amid the waste as it is seeing the forest for the trees.

Value hides amid the waste

What the organization really values is defect free software solutions that can be turned into revenue, or that will generate savings. So in order to actually reduce waste, it would be orders of magnitude more effective for the quality assurance team to look at the software development process and determine how they can help to prevent defects from getting introduced in the first place. Then we would be talking about eliminating waste rather than simply having a discussion about making a wasteful process more efficient.

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Mark Dickey
WFS Consulting Partner