“Lean Drawing” an exaptation story

Chris Young
4 min readMar 20, 2019


Three years ago I was inspired by the artist Pascal Anson to make some pen and ink drawings of people using a strategy he shared on BBC TV’s Big Painting Challenge. Here’s one of them:

People in Peckham using the Pascal Anson Movement Strategy

Here’s Anson describing the strategy:

As a practitioner of Lean strategies and methods in Software development there was a lot that appealed to me about Anson’s approach:

Continuous Flow

A single person is drawn with a single brush mark. This means you always have a potentially finished drawing. There is only ever a tiny amount of work in progress as once the brush is lifted off the paper the person is drawn.

This is akin to the lean idea of continuous, or single piece, flow where you aim to complete the delivery of something of value before starting on the next.

Feedback Loops and emergent behaviour

As people are added to the drawing they shape its composition. They determine where the next person will be placed. As the people being drawn are moving around you have no idea what the final drawing will look like in detail but you continue with the goal of conveying a sense of people moving in space.

This is what we find in software. We have a goal we hope to fulfil but we don’t know everything about the requirements we need to meet. As we deliver work of value that informs what we choose to do next.

Power of Aggregate

When we look at the data that represents our work, a single data point tells us little or nothing. As we gather more data and visualise it we see patterns that help us to better understand it. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts:

Cycle Time Scatterplot taken from ActionableAgile’s Example Data

Similarly with these movement drawings. The more figures we add, the more coherent and believable the picture of the crowd becomes.

Seeing these analogues between the drawing strategy and lean led me to run an experiment at the British Computer Society conference London Lean Kanban Day 2017 to see if the attendees of the conference could, as a group, create a picture of the event by each contributing a single figure to a drawing. The photos above show people doing just that and below is the result:

What happened next…

The thing that makes this story worth telling three years after the event is what happened next. During the conference marathon runner Karl Scotland was collecting sponsorship money on behalf of The National Autistic Society. As the drawing was coming together, Chris Matts suggested we auction the drawing to raise money as well.

Helen Meek

“Great idea” I said. Then Helen Meek proposed that we auction not just the picture but donations from her and other speakers at the conference. This included things like coaching sessions, signed books, places on course and cups of coffee.

The result was an auction raising several thousand pounds for The National Autistic Society.

The next year the auction was held again at London Lean Kanban Day 2018 and more money was raised.

This year it was held again with over three thousand pounds being raised for Cancer Research UK.

The London Lean Kanban Day 2019 auction

So what started as a strategy for drawing people moving around became an experiment at a British Computing Society conference which became a way of raising money for charity which has then been repeated for three years running.

Liz Keogh spoke at this year’s conference about exaptation, the process by which features acquire functions for which they were not originally adapted or selected. I don’t know if the story told here strictly meets this definition but certainly the evolution from Anson’s original strategy to the conference’s tradition of ending with a charity auction was not intentional.

It remains a wonderful thing and something the community around the conference are justifiably proud.