In a recent article by Reena Jana, Business Week spotlighted the concept of ‘Jugaad’, a Hindi slang word for doing things ‘fast and cheap’ by using innovation to get around conventional barriers and focusing on exactly what the real need is rather than the more aspirational requirement that may be the starting point. As an approach to building and delivering IT requirements in the current tough economic period this is of course immediately recognisable as an interesting concept.
The article quotes a number of well-known companies that claim to be making use of Jugaad and points to training by Indian management gurus. Actually the term goes deeper than this. It means making do with scarce resources, or ‘getting it done’ anyway you can. Stretching the definition, this may even include illegal or dangerous means. To me this is an exact summary of the risks that enterprises are running by allowing shadow IT’ within their business, a term that refers to employees outside the IT department building and deploying their own DIY technology solutions under the radar.

Every CIO I speak to recognises that there is a lot of this going on across their business. Readily available virtual machines or platforms, paid for on a per-use basis, have provided increasingly technology-literate end users with the ability to do it. So is this classic Jugaad? I reckon so. It accomplishes the immediate objective, but ignores the bigger impact that such improvisation can bring.
Am I guilty of being a typical IT person who can’t, or worse still won’t, listen and compromise? If you mean do I worry about the consequences of this then the answer is an unrepentant yes because IT is about enterprise-wide stability and coherence. However neither do I reject the need to achieve some of the principles that Jugaad implies.
So thank you India for the philosophy and cultural concept. Now, what about linking it to ‘lean’, a western concept for reducing unnecessary waste? Lean Manufacturing was the starting point for the development of a methodical approach for reducing unnecessary activities and the removal of people who might complicate rather than optimise the process. Today Lean Manufacturing is well understood, and respected, complete with structured training, designated practitioners and alike. It is also frequently aligned with Six Sigma, the equally methodical approach to designing out factors that can introduce substandard quality.
Lean Software Development, named after the book, marries the principles of Lean Manufacturing with those of Agile Development. Its key additions to Agile lie in helping the refinement of the requirement by teaching how to recognise ‘waste’ introduced in any stage of progress, in order to positively manage this out. The result is less time, cost, and more reliable results out of any build. The book is a rewrite of the major textbooks on Lean Manufacturing specifically to adapt it to Agile Software Development and includes 22 ‘tools’ to use. As such it is considered by many Agile Practitioners to offer real value.
However, perhaps the most important of the seven principles of Lean is the one that focuses on ‘empowering people’, because that’s the one that comes back to the key principle of Jugaad – putting the power to solve problems in the hands of those most closely involved. Put simply, in large enterprises methods have all too often taken flexibility to optimise away from people and replaced it with conformity. Jugaad is right to recognise this, but in a large enterprise some ‘awareness’ of the bigger picture is needed too. Adding Lean as the bridge from Jugaad to Agile may be the answer.