“Lean Enterprise” – about lean and high performance organizations

Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale
Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale (Image from http://www.shop.oreilly.com).

Like most of you, I invest quite some time reading about agile software development practices and how to create innovative solutions with a short time to market. My experience, although admittedly limited, teaches me that an agile software development team is not quite enough. One can invest in agile methodologies like Scrum as much as one likes, but it will not really deliver its promises when the whole organization is not transformed.

I always wondered how these agile practices and so-called ‘startup mentality’ would work for bigger organizations. Fortunately, there is a book written by Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reilly that discusses exactly this. “Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale”.

The book discusses how all these agile, lean and startup practices can also be applied to large organizations. Several case studies support the material in the book.


People are best motivated when they can have mastery, autonomy and purpose. Therefore they need to be able to make their own choices and must implement short feedback cycles to achieve mastery. When the purpose (why does the company exist and what is it trying to achieve for its customers) does not exist, it is very hard to get motivated from your work.

Exploring and Exploiting

Innovating and trying to find a new innovative product or service requires a different process than maintaining and extending an existing product or service. In Lean Enterprise a distinction is made between the explore phase and the exploit phase.

In the explore fase one focusses on well-defined experiments. Fast pivoting between different potential solutions is used to find a good product-market fit. The ideas from ‘Lean startup’ work very well in this fase.

Once a new product or service is succesful, it must be scaled to more customers. At this point stability and performance become more important. Practices like DevOps and Continuous Delivery will ensure that improving the product can still be done in an fast agile way.

Transforming an organization

The authors also give advice on how to start transforming your organization to become truly Lean. They discuss how to best set priorities, using techniques like ‘Cost of Delay’ or the ‘Improvement Kata’. There is also advice on how to engage the employees who might resist these changes.

A very interesting concept is a management style called: ‘Mission Command’. The idea is that executives communicate the mission that needs to be accomplished. Then moving down the organization hierarchy, people have the authority to execute and change their plans so that the mission will be accomplished.

This book is highly recommended for people who are interested in improving the organization they work in. Although the book is targeted mostly to management, I find it also very interesting as a developer. It helps me to better position the different practices and methodologies within an organization. It is easier to see how all these techniques work together to make an organization high performant.

More details

Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale
Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reilly
O’Reilly Media, December 2014

Jez Humble is on Twitter: @jezhumble and has a personal blog: http://jezhumble.net and a professional blog: http://continuousdelivery.com

Joanne Molesky can be found on Twitter as well: @jemolesky

Barry O’Reilly has a website http://barryoreilly.com and can be found on Twitter: @barryoreilly