Incorporating Lean Sigma into App Development

Want to grow revenue by 80% or increase market share by 60%? Well, your organization might not get the exact same results, but it can realize some benefits if proper Lean Sigma practices are put in place. Some benefits of using Lean Sigma include increased customer loyalty, improved operational efficiency, and better return on investments. With such a great tool for process improvement, it’s a shame that not all organizations use it.

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that incorporates lean manufacturing/lean enterprise concepts and was born out of the need to drive process improvements. The first companies to start using Six Sigma were Toyota and others in the manufacturing world. Later, it spread to other industries. The initial intent of Six Sigma was to reduce the variability in a manufacturing environment in order to produce high quality products. Six Sigma applies statistical process control techniques in order to drive variability down. In order to do this, you have to first identify the main drivers of variability, measure, and then fix them. Then, you’ll use tools to see if variability was reduced. Six Sigma requires an iterative process, which is similar to the scientific method where one would define the problem, measure with tools, analyze and drive improvements, put these in place, and then measure again to see if the improvement was successful or not. Then you start the process over and do it again. This technique expanded into Lean Sigma, which is focused on eliminating waste. Process engineers saw areas of waste, such as inventory waiting for days that weren’t needed at the time, or production lines that weren’t in sync with people and trucks, causing long wait times and wasted resources. Today, Lean Sigma is broadly used and all techniques are based on the following key elements: a clearly defined goal,  an iterative improvement process driven by metrics, and constant learning to ultimately make things better.

Benefits of Integrating Lean Six Sigma into App Development

Why should an organization integrate Lean Six Sigma into app development? Well, there are various benefits including:

  • Less waste
  • Higher efficiency
  • Faster and higher business impact
  • Is focused on what provides the biggest bang for the buck
  • Easy to demonstrate the ROI that you’re making

Applying Lean Six Sigma To App Development

So how can you apply Lean Six Sigma to developing apps? Well, first off, apps need to be built for a reason such as: reducing costs, improving customer satisfaction, and speeding up a process. The traditional way of developing an app is creating one in its entirety and then testing it with customers after, which can be a slow process with a huge amount of waste involved. In addition, the assumptions you made when creating the app aren’t always correct and user behaviors may be different than expected.

Applying Lean Six Sigma to app development will help you make a better product that people will actually want to use. The development of the app would go something like this:

  • Clearly define the business objective you are trying to accomplish
  • Measure the current situation to establish a baseline - Many people overlook this step. Figure out metrics such as how much time a process takes, etc.
  • Analyze the data to find root causes of the problem: Why does it take this long? Make a list of reasons (ex. Have to wait to fill out form, need to get a signature, takes time to carry paper to office, lack of understanding, issues with old forms)
  • Identify the biggest driver/impact (Ex. Having the proper forms)
  • Put a solution together that's specifically focused on addressing this topic
  • Deploy it and measure again
  • Learn - compare data vs. the baseline and decide what’s the next critical thing to address
  • Then, go after the next feature, looping back again to keep continuously driving improvements

Tips for Success

The key to implementing Lean Six Sigma into app development is being able to talk with the person that has the business problem and getting him or her involved. Typically, the team building the app doesn't have contact with the team that has the business problem. For example, a business VP would have a problem and ask the IT team to create an app to automate and fix the problem. The VP wouldn’t get involved in creating the app. However, this mindset needs to be shifted. The team that has the business problem should be involved in the entire iterative development process. As a group they should figure out the issues and quantify the problems. Then, they should start applying technology and see if it brings savings and increased efficiency. At every step of the development process, the group should decide if they should continue iterating or stop. The app development process can keep going as long as the organization is still realizing valuable business returns or until improvements become marginal and ROI is low. Once the application has removed the waste, then the company can shift attention elsewhere. The entire process should be iterative, metric-driven, and intended for business improvement.

Best practices: Dropbox

One company that is using Lean Six Sigma principles is Dropbox. The cloud storage service has a growth team that optimizes every line of text in the product, the title of every email, and even the text of every invitation based on the metrics. Dropbox made sure that they had a clear business purpose and metric in place, and then would make a hypothesis and test. They would implement any modifications, measure it, and check on the progress (see a presentation on this topic by Dropbox's CEO, Drew Houston, here). To continually improve, the company would iterate. As one can see, organizations can apply Lean Six Sigma into their app development process or into developing products and services. Just keep in mind what you are trying to achieve and follow the steps listed above.

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