What is Lean Product Development In Digital Products?

April 19, 2022

Lean approach is an intellectual framework for optimizing human activities by focusing on maximum efficiency. Lean production developed from the idea of Toyota’s production system. Current popular practices of lean thinking can be found in production systems, initiatives, and development efforts.

According to James P. Womack, who first mentioned lean production in 1991 with his book The Machine That Changed The World, after Krafcik called Toyota’s production system “lean” in 1988, it is important to answer the question of what is the lean approach. The best way is to explain what the lean approach is not. Until Toyota’s production system, there was 2 common production methodologies:

  • Craft Production System: A production methodology, mostly seen in labor-intensive industries, in which highly skilled, irreplaceable workers design, manufacture and assemble all products one by one. A small number of different products are produced.
  • Mass Production System: A production methodology, mostly seen in capital-intensive industries, where unskilled, quickly replaceable workers make different parts of the product at the same time.

Lean manufacturing methodology can be expressed as the opposite of Ford’s mass production system and traditional artisanal production system. It is opposed to the production philosophy of mass production, which has no sensitivity to user needs and demands, and to the costly time-consuming customized products of artisanal production.

  • Toyota’s Production System: Fundamentally, what creates the Toyota production system is to produce the required part, in the required quality, in the required quantity, at the required time. The main purpose is to realize effective production by reducing the waste in the production process. Three sub-goals that serve this main purpose are quality control, quality assurance and respect for people. All these goals can be achieved in the light of 4 concepts: just-in-time production, automation, flexible workforce, benefiting from employee suggestions.

Lean product approach is a set of ideas to systematically simplify production processes and reduce waste, to realize valuable production for the user in the most effective way. It aims to reach a “working” product that fulfills the same function for the user in less time, with less resources, less stock and less effort. It is a product development approach that aims to perfect a product with values that the customer agrees to use/pay for, by using the least time, effort, money and other resources, and by feeding it continuous feedback.

Lean approach, which is becoming more and more widespread day by day, means minimizing the waste of resources by optimizing business processes while building value, and always developing at the same time.

Lean start-up on the other hand, simplifies product development processes and prioritizes seeing whether the business model is viable with the data obtained from the use of the product by small audiences. It aims to develop a product by using resources in the most effective way instead of costly development processes that take time.

The basic idea in lean approach is to reduce waste in value creation processes. A business that has adopted a lean approach must have determined what is valuable to the customer/user. In order to create a lean system that can respond to real-world problems, workflows must be dynamically and flexibly improved in terms of muda, muri, and mura.

What Are The Lean Product Approach Principles?

Lean product approach principles, in its most general sense, are a set of principles that reduce waste while increasing customer value. There are 5 basic lean approach principles:

  1. Reducing Muda, Mura and Muri.
  2. Building Quality.
  3. Producing Knowledge.
  4. Defer Commitment.
  5. Fast Delivery

1) Reducing Muda, Mura, and Muri

Muda, mura and muri are the types of waste that occur in the workflow accidentally. They arise depending on each other. One of the main purposes of the lean approach is to use all the resources in the best way by minimizing all types of waste such as unnecessary features, unnecessary documentation, endless meetings, overproduction.

What is Muda? (無駄)

All efforts that do not contribute to the total value are called muda (waste in Japanese, 無駄). There are 2 types of muda. Muda type 1 is muda that does not directly produce value for the user, but is necessary for a safe, healthy, working product, e.g. safety tests. Muda type 2, on the other hand, refers to waste that is not required at all and should be removed. There are 7 of type 2 muda:

  1. Unnecessary Transport
  2. Inventory 
  3. Motion
  4. Waiting
  5. Overproduction
  6. Over processing
  7. Defect

What is Mura?(斑)

Muda is caused by mura, which means unevenness. Mura happens when work is imbalanced. For example, if a machine in a production line operates faster than others, it could indicate that there are half-finished items that are piling up. Just-in-time production and other pull tactics can help you prevent it. 

What is Muri (無理)

Muri means overload on someone or a machine. It is unbalanced loading of a person or machine. Mura can cause muri. Muri can cause employees to become ill or machines to break down. Standardization of the workflow can avoid muri. 

From a product development point of view, waste types have different meanings:

  • Over production

Over production stands for synchronizing the information and resources capability and schedule. Use pull events instead of phase gates.

  • Transportation

Transportation stands for defining optimized information flow (what, when, to whom and how) and avoiding multitasking. 

  • Waiting

Waiting stands for including only dependencies that represent the value flow. 

  • Processing

Processing stands for the project network must include all and only the activities from and to support the value flow. Guarantee the allocation of the right people and materials. 

  • Inventory

Inventory stands for defining clearly what, when and who will perform each task and executing resource leveling. 

  • Unnecessary movement

Unnecessary movement stands for avoiding micro planning that may lead to information inconsistency.

  • Defective product

Defective product stands for creating a verification and validation plan to check the right value delivery.  

2) Building Quality 

The lean product approach is based on quality production. A team or business that adopts a lean product approach builds a quality production culture to ensure that the product is of good quality and establishes workflows that will ensure it is proactive in quality management processes. Instead of adding a quality control stage after the entire production process is finished, it measures every stage of the business process at the point where it occurs and intervenes in errors. To achieve this, there are 5 rules that the whole team must adopt:

  1. Don’t agree to build something wrong.
  2. Resolve every error where it occurs.
  3. Self-organizing teams can act proactively.
  4. Standardize workflows.
  5. Always look for opportunities to improve.

3) Producing Knowledge

One of the basic principles of the lean approach is to keep knowledge generation and learning. The most important thing during the execution of a job is to gain knowledge of how the job is done. Know-how is more important than anything else.

4) Defer Commitment

Deferring a commitment means not making promises that will prevent the workflow from being flexible. It ensures not to compromise on quality just to meet deadlines. It makes it possible to switch between jobs. It aims at a business process that is not dependent on outside for prioritization.

5) Fast Delivery

One of the basic principles of the lean approach is to deliver a working product in the shortest possible time by making the best use of time resources. A lean workflow adopts the principle of completing the process quickly by minimizing all time losses.

Fundamental Concepts of Lean Product Development

Pull System

The pull system means workload will be based on demand. Also known as just-in-time production or demand-driven flow. It is a system in which the production process is pulled towards the sales process when a demand for the product occurs. In the pushing system, the product is produced at full capacity and while the produced product is sold, in the pull system, waste is avoided by making production on demand.


Value is one of the key concepts in lean, an unprecedented philosophy that considers value a group process and not just a transaction. In its simplest definition, value means to create a non-monetary benefit for a subset of stakeholders. Value in lean thinking can be easily summarized into four essential statements:

  1. Personal because what is important to one group or person may not be valuable to others.
  2. Temporal because it changes over time as stakeholders’ priorities shift.
  3. Systemic because parts, subsystems, or company sectors only add value if they make a contribution to the whole.
  4. Fuzzy at the start of the life cycle, due to the limited available information to determine the total value.

Value Stream

The value stream is the visualization of each step in the manufacturing process adding a customer-requested value to the final product. By visualizing the flow, it is aimed to eliminate if there are parts that do not add value. Any stage that has no value for the end user is considered a waste.


It is the visualization of the production process. It is a board that expresses the stages in which the product travels along the production path. It is a flexible and always up to date plan.


Kaizen is a combination of the Japanese words kai and zen, meaning change and good. It refers to the continuous improvement technique. Continuous improvement of every stage of the production process is one of the principles of the lean approach. For this reason, the kaizen technique is often used.


Gemba means “real place” in Japanese and refers to the workshop where all production processes take place. Likewise, in a facility that implements lean methodology, this is where changes need to be implemented. Managers are encouraged to spend time at gemba because lean thinking requires hands-on decision making.


Agile approach is the application of lean philosophy to software development processes. For example, if you are developing a mobile application that you think 30 features are necessary for the customer, you will probably see that 5-6 features are the most important at the end of the research process that you handle with an agile approach, and you will prioritize communicating these basic features to the customer.

Processes and Tools Individuals and Interactions ↑
Comprehensive DocumentationWorking Software ↑
Contract Negotiations Partnership with Customers ↑
PlanRespond to Change ↑

Agile manifesto says values on the left are important but values on the right are more important. Agile manifesto is not a methodology, it’s a set of values and principles. It occurs from only 68 words but says too much more. 


Lean development principles have been applied in corporate manufacturing since the 1980s, but have become relevant in today’s digital age with the introduction of lean product development techniques. 

 With lean product development we are able to reduce our digital partner’s market testing, therefore increasing speed to market; reduce production costs and therefore increase profit; increase consumer satisfaction by addressing their needs faster.

Read how we support our digital partners in Tio with a lean product development approach. 




Startup Founder'sActionable Guide toDigital Products

Startup Founder’s Actionable Guide to Digital Products