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PathXL Enters the Lean World of Agile Development - In this latest post to the PathXL blog, we are going to take a look back at some of the changes that have taken place over the past 12 months here at PathXL -
PathXL Enters the Lean World of Agile Development


NewswireToday - /newswire/ - Belfast, Northern Ireland, Ireland, 2013/08/19 - In this latest post to the PathXL blog, we are going to take a look back at some of the changes that have taken place over the past 12 months here at PathXL - NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA

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Written by David McCleary

The most notable change being our shift towards becoming a lean enterprise.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with a lean enterprise (also known as ‘lean manufacturing’ or ‘lean productions’) here is a short background for you. It is a concept that was originally pioneered by Henry Ford when he combined standard work with interchangeable parts to create what he called flow production.

The idea of flow production allowed Ford to yield a greater output, in a shorter period of time, with minimal wastage. This involved the use of a mass assembly line and workers with specialized job roles within this production line. The idea of a moving assembly line was a revolutionary breakthrough; however there was a major flaw with Ford's approach and this was variety as identified in this famous Ford quote about the Model T car.
"Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." (Henry Ford, 1909)

Toyota revisited Ford's thinking in the 1930s and built on their own principle of Just In Time (JIT) Production to produce a more dynamic system known as the Toyota Production System upon which most modern lean concepts are now based.

In more recent years software development teams have adopted lean manufacturing concepts with the same core aims that Henry Ford had all those years ago, aiming to produce high quality products, quickly, making effective use of resources and reducing waste.

As I write this I am very impressed with the changes that have taken place over the last year within PathXL. The digital pathology software company has moved from cottage industry practices to a lean world of agile development, continuous improvement, kaizen events, KPIs and visual management.

Over the past year PathXL have introduced lean concepts not only to the research and development (R&D) team but companywide, and have built strong processes that are improved on a daily basis. The key to working lean at PathXL is communication, teamwork and continuous improvement. We hold two short daily meetings in our Belfast office. The first is at 9:45am where the R&D team has a stand up meeting in their two respective teams to conduct their daily scrum. During the meeting each person in turn answers three questions with a time limit of one minute.

The three questions asked of the R&D team are as follows:

1. Have you any impediments?
2. What are you doing today?
3. What did you do yesterday?

An example of this at work would begin with Chris (Development team) saying that progress was slow yesterday because a test box wasn’t working correctly. From this Adam (Development team) notes down a concern on the continuous improvement list. Chris continues by briefly describing the requirement (user story) he is working on today and finishes by letting everyone know the progress he made yesterday. This is repeated for each team member until at the end an action list is created to remove any issues from the process.

Our Second meeting is at 9:50am which is signaled with an alarm clock to indicate that it is time for the daily performance meeting. Members of the Support team and R&D team huddle around the Visual Management Board. This meeting deals with addressing performance relative to the product development process and the live support process and provides the opportunity for teams to discuss any problems that have arisen. This allows corrective actions to be taken.

A recent example of this second meeting in action is where Garry (Support team) starts off by asking if there are any communication points within the team. At this point Debbie (Human Resources) lets everyone know that she has bought cake because the last quality target was met (we do love cake here at PathXL). Steve then steps up to talk about any support tickets that have been raised.

A ticket has been raised by a customer who can’t view images. The teams discuss this and Mike (R&D team) thinks he might know the resolution and suggests that both he and Steve get together after the huddle to discuss how this can be resolved. Adam then steps up to the board on behalf of development and indicates that everything is on track.

Continuous improvement

Garry then looks at the continuous improvement log created during the previous meeting and notices the new concerns which have been raised by Adam. He takes a note and lets everyone know that all issues will be fixed by lunch.

lean-blog1The meeting is finished and everyone returns to their desk with a clear picture of what work needs done today and current progress of the release. These two meetings which take place inside 15 minutes track and communicate the progress and also raise and resolve any impediments. Now that’s lean!

I couldn’t write a blog article about lean without mentioning Paul Moorhead and Denis Sharp. Both men have made a significant impact on the way we work at PathXL. Paul was instrumental in helping the R&D team get to grips with agile development and putting in place robust software development processes from initial requirements gathering through to delivery. Denis, from BSE Partners, has introduced lean processes to the wider company and helped to drive out waste and transform quality in processes.

So there you have it. A quick overview of some of the changes we have been going through here at PathXL in the past 12 months to help improve our processes.

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PathXL Enters the Lean World of Agile Development

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