The Menlo Way

44303572_sMenlo Innovations was visited by representatives of Toyota, the firm that has defined the meaning of lean thinking in their Toyota Production System.  After touring Menlo and seeing The Menlo Way they proclaimed Menlo was doing ‘The Toyota Way’ of building software. We, of course, consider that statement a tremendous compliment.

I used to run Deming Nights at Menlo over a decade ago. We would watch Deming videos and encourage folks to read books like “The Goal” or “Kaizen” on lean manufacturing. I even wrote an online series mapping Taiichi Ohno’s famous seven wastes to software. It was interesting to us to see how Toyota had previously discovered many of the same thought patterns we applied to software.

We didn’t, however, read any of these lean books to really create The Menlo Way. Instead we read:

  1. Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck.
  2. About Face by Alan Cooper.
  3. The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper.

We then did as much as possible to make the insights in these book work together, which is a bit of a methodology trick because these books have some significant disagreements.

I still strongly encourage business leaders to read about the Toyota Production System and lean. However, I don’t believe your IT department will become agile by reading lean. If the grand master of lean thinking didn’t naturally become as agile as Menlo by applying lean principles then I believe it is reasonable to conclude you will not either.

Agile is an entirely different place.

Agile leverages lean thinking but it requires completely unique insights into the nature of computer programming to do achieve,

You will not lean your way to The Menlo Way.

You will not lean your way to Agile.

There is a way to become exceptionally Agile, just like Menlo. I helped create Menlo, so I should know. However, you have to be willing to become the apprentice again. To master The Menlo Way you have to surrender everything you think you know about software development (and lean) and begin again.

Fifteen years after first creating Menlo I find almost nobody even comes close to Menlo’s abilities. This after dozens more books are written on lean and hundreds more books are written on agile. It really depresses me,  but I do know how to fix the problem.

Interested in being as good or better than Menlo?

I can show you the way… but you have to really want to get there. I  don’t think most people really want to get there!


Note: I seriously want you to read the lean books too. Just don’t confuse cause and effect.

By Tom (Thomas) Meloche –

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