Monday, May 13, 2013

LEAN is not a way to lose weight. Or is it?

When I was first introduced with the principles of Lean thinking, my coach started off by making it clear we are not talking about a way to lose weight. A few years later, I would like to revisit and challenge that statement. Having learned more about the Kanban principles since, I think there are clear similarities.

Since the eating process is generally defined by our biology, I'll focus on flow

The starting point is late 2011, when I realized that unless I seriously change something I will continue accumulating weight. During my adult life I was always somewhat overweight, but at that point my weight was already a cause of grief and low self esteem. 

Establishing Pull

We often eat for all kinds of reasons: schedule, habit, availability, social circumstances, boredom. None of those is directly related to a biological need: first comes one of those reasons, next we eat. A Push system. The result is Fat, the biological equivalent of Inventory. This is where we store over-production. 

The natural Pull system is the Hunger mechanism. Our body needs more energy, so our minds signal "eat now". 
I don't know how it is for others, but I find it hard to free myself from all the social and psychological layers hiding and tempering with the basic hunger mechanism, so I needed to establish an alternative pull system.

To create pull, I needed to adjust the calorie intake to be just enough for the energy I spend. Since I didn't plan to rely on hunger, I needed a forecast of the energy demand, and a way to adjust the estimation.

Smartphones are great. A calorie calculator app provided an easy way to estimate a daily calorie budget, to visualize my calorie intake and my weight reduction rate.   

Keeping within budget meant I have an explicit policy. I would need to plan what I eat, and choose between alternatives in a conscious way.   

Seek Perfection

Once the first signs of success started to show, and some eating habits were established, I was ready to change further aspects of my diet. Here are a couple of examples.

While tracking my calorie consumption against a budget, I noticed it was much harder for me to keep to the plan on weekends and holidays. I realized that some habits are harder to change, but they surfaced only after I got the work days under control. For example, I didn't really have to take a serving of every single dish on the table at family dinners. It is not really an insult to the host.  

At some point I started adding sport to my schedule. It serves a few purposes contributing to value:  
  • Increasing the spent energy (while keeping the intake) gets rid of fat
  • More muscle mass burns more energy, not just during exercise 
  • Sport is another way to support the value of sustaining myself - a stronger body is valuable to me not only because it burns more calories

What Helped

Two things that supported this journey. 
  1. Intention - I realized being overweight wasn't acceptable to me anymore while preparing to hold a workshop about Christopher Avery's Responsibility Process. One of the things he teaches is getting clarity on what I want. This was a strong motivator for me.
  2. Visibility - I happened to get my first smartphone at the same time, on which I zealously logged everything I ate for a whole year. This made me very aware of the impact of each type and amount of food on my calorie-budget
I managed to lose 18 kg (around 40 pounds) within a year. 
I feel much better, can run faster and longer, and I'm proud of my achievement.

I can't say I decided to lose weight by applying lean principles, but I'm quite sure those principles were there to support me. Elements such as sustainable pace, explicit policies, visualization, continuous improvement, and discipline are common to both.


  1. Interesting post there, and congratulations for losing 18kg within a year! That's awesome and its what we call persistency and great discipline!

  2. Awesome parallels between 'Lean Thinking' and getting Lean physically. Expecting a follow-up post discussing batch size, WIP limits and Continuous Improvement :-)

  3. Thank you, Harish! I believe I did touch on improvement (seek perfection), and I suppose the calorie budget accounts for a daily wip limit. I thought about mentioning that many diet consultants recommend having smaller, more frequent meals, as small batch size... but the post was getting long as it was:)

  4. Congratulations on the achievement. Even though there are some similarities, lean software development is much more than the proper diet to improve the health. What is applicable for a team with different capacities and capabilities is not truly the same. But nevertheless there are parallels and watching the diet is always good.

    1. Thanks, Vasu :)
      I fully agree with your statements, but I enjoyed digging for the similarities. There are underlying principles of discipline, sustainability, visualization, inspect and adapt - but missing quite a few aspects such as teamwork, improving the value stream (changing the flow of things qualitatively, not just quantitatively) and so forth.
      Thanks for challenging this parallel.

  5. I like the way you write your articles, how you describe things simple and direct.
    I like it when you are telling the truth about lean and saying that it's a way of life!
    It's simply true, no matter in what tools you implement lean and for what tyoe of projects, the result always will be SATISFACTION simply because it let's you lose waste

    1. Thank you for this, and for making me realize I "managed" to write about lean without talking of value and waste... good point!

  6. I will follow your all points because I am looking for weight loss plans and your suggestions are very helpful for me.Your ideas are too good to reduce my calories and fats. Thanks for posting it.