I’m still in the learning phase of Lean and Kanban. I guess I know a lot more in theory than in practice as my experience is limited. However, I have started notice Lean applied in places that I didn’t before, which personally, I find encouraging (and sort of exciting, is that a bit geeky?).

I like how people relate processes and guidelines to things I like as I can relate more strongly to it. A good example is the Highlander Principle relating to S.O.L.I.D (or even being DRY), “There can only be one”. I immediately embrace it, mainly because Highlander is an awesome film, but it’s also something that I can easily remember.

The other day I was watching The Last Samurai, a film that gets a lot of criticism, but is actually fairly good (IMHO). It’s the striking precision and efficiency of the samurai that is interesting with regards to Lean.

Preparation

Instead of getting on with the task of destroying the enemy in the interest of the emperor, Katsumoto captures one of the enemy, Nathan Algren, rather than killing him so that he can learn more about his enemy. Things such as how they fight, what drives them and what are their weaknesses. This better prepares him for battle as he has a better understanding of what needs to be done.

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought” – Sun Tzu

By contrast, upon first fighting, the enemy are unsettled, don’t function as a unit, and are eventually crushed (every man for himself), leading to the capture of Algren.

@benjaminm used the example during a talk, if you put poor ingredients into a cake, then make the cake, no amount of checking on the cake while it’s cooking is going to improve it. The same goes for information. The better you can prepare yourself, the better the outcome.

Communication

During the film Katsumoto and Nathan Algren have many “good conversations”. Short, precise conversations that have a reason and outcome.

“I have introduced myself. You have introduced yourself. This is a very good conversation.” – Katsumoto

Every conversation has a purpose and never lasts longer than it needs to, despite Nathan Algren trying to continue the conversation on some occasions. It reflects one of the 7 sins in Lean, excess motion. How many “good conversation” are you having?

Katsumoto: You fought against your Red Indians?
Algren: Yes.
Katsumoto: Tell me of your part in this war.
Algren: Why?
Katsumoto: I wish to learn.
Algren: Read a book.
Katsumoto: I would rather have a good conversation.

This highlights talking rather than reading. A team should favour the former, and will have better understanding of what they are doing because of it.

Over Development

This isn’t something that Katsumoto realises until close to death.

“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”

Similar in development, you can spend endless amounts of time trying to build the perfect feature. It’s your customers that define if it’s perfect or not, which you’ll never know unless you release something to them to give feedback on.

Wasted Effort

At one point in the film, Nathan Algren picks up a wooden bokken and is challenged by Omura. They begin fighting, and despite all his effort and swinging, Nathan Algren is knocked down. He has heart though, and keeps getting up, but every time is knocked down by the faster, more precise and effortless blows from Omura. This happens until Algren eventually burns out and is beaten.

The same happens when he wrestles one of the samurai, who employs an Aikido like way of wrestling, redirecting motion, rather than wasting effort trying to oppose it.

“If I am no use, I will happily end my life” – Katsumoto

Probably not a moto developers should really adopt (apply it to your process instead), but the point is that excess effort can cause burn out, and is hugely inefficient. You should always look to reduce effort where it’s not required.

Belonging

At the beginning of the film Nathan Algren is considered an enemy of the samurai, but by the end he’s one of them.

They embrace him, feed him, clothe him, and teach him their ways. He’s not alienated, or pushed away. And by doing so he becomes better at fighting, and better in life through learning their ways. He has greater care and appreciation for those around him, and the actions he takes.

Also at no point was Algren “pushed” into doing a task. He naturally adopted and wanted to get involved in training himself through fascination. And he did this when he was good and ready to.

Pride

Algren: What else has she told you?
Katsumoto: That you have nightmares.
Algren: Every soldier has nightmares.
Katsumoto: Only one who is ashamed of what he has done.
Algren: You have no idea what I have done.

Developers too may find themselves having nightmares over code they have written in the past, and wakeup in the middle of the night shouting “sake!”. The pride, and precision the samurai take in everything, from folding clothes, to keeping the floor clean reflects their quality of life. Take similar pride in any code you write, and features you develop, make sure it’s the best it can be and you won’t have any nightmares, or things to be ashamed of.

Mastering The Way Of The Sword

This is something the samurai focus on and continually improve. Practicing constantly (not variably), with discipline and pride. Be like a samurai, and master you process. Apply only the tools and techniques you need in order to work as best you can.

Conclusion

I won’t go on about the film any more, but you should get the idea. There may be some nuggets of wisdom in there. Adventures of Lean in films, awesome stuff. Think I may watch some of Star Wars this weekend and see how it applies Lean. The whole concept of “The Force” is bound to bring up some Lean principles. However, I’ll most likely be pushed (not pulled) into watching Ugly Betty or similar though, which sort of kills the fascination.

Colin Grossman


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