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Lean Vs Agile – Understand the Differences

In the competitive business world, organizations should be adaptable and flexible. Only then, they can respond to the shifting trends in the market. Also, only when they are flexible enough, businesses can deliver products that customers actually want. This rule applies to businesses operating in any field including software and non-software product developments. When it comes to businesses in this field, they are able to achieve these things by following one of the two big methodologies. Yes, they are Agile and Lean.

These are two different methodologies. But, both of them help with improving speed, quality and innovation. This is why both of them are confused and misunderstood for one over the other. Before we understand the difference between Lean and Agile, let us first throw some light on what these methodologies are all about.

Lean Methodology – An Introduction:

Lean denotes a set of knowledge known popularly as Lean Manufacturing. This concept was developed as early as the 1950s and 60s in Japan. Taichi Ohno, an engineer discovered this concept and it has brought about changes to many traditional concepts like:

Manufacturing should be done only based on the requirement for a product in the market and not depending on the supply. When this idea is followed, there will not be any need for stock clearance as the production of a product happens only when there is a demand for it. There are no chances of production with the hope that someone will place an order.

  • The manufacturing will be more efficient when done in small lots. When this is done, the marketing team can be driven to take steps to constantly expand the size of the market by following effective marketing techniques.
  • Time should be given to improving quality. In turn, production efficiency and overall production will increase.
  • The working methodology should be defined by employers and not managers.
  • Employees should improve their method of working in an ongoing fashion against executing pre-defined tasks repeatedly. 

These practices part of Lean methodology were initially seen by the western industry as heretical. But, the Japanese industries continue to adopt them. In turn, there were able to perform better than manufacturing organizations in the Western countries.

In short, the purpose of Lean Methodology is to entirely eliminate practices that do not add any value to the organization. When an organization follows this methodology, it will keep away from everything unnecessary including unnecessary documentation, tasks, meetings and in-efficient working methods like multitasking. Above all, the Lean Methodology gives a high focus on the way teams work as a whole. This methodology aims at optimizing the process by seeing tasks from a higher level in order. The good thing about Lean is that it honors people, who do the tasks as it believes that they know how to do the task at its best. Once these people get what they need to give their best, they must be trusted and left alone based on the Lean Methodology.

An Introduction to Agile Methodology:

In an endeavor to understand Lean Vs. Agile, you know what is Lean Methodology all about. Now, you should gain a basic understanding of Agile Methodology before moving on:

The origin of Agile started with the Agile Manifesto. This platform is officially called the Manifesto for Agile Product Development. The purpose of this platform is to provide a short introduction to the ideal practices for software development and non-software development from the frameworks like Kanban and Scrum.

The defining guidelines of Agile Methodology are as follows:

  • Discussions over tools and processes
  • Products that works over comprehensive documentation
  • As against contract negotiation relying on customer collaboration
  • Rather than following a plan, responding to change is important

When you take the case of Lean practices, they favor a set of demand-like sentences. But, when you take the case of Agile, it gives more value to the methodology discussion and development, which, in turn, will carry more value to the concept. Further, Agile holds the principles listed below as key practices:

  • Simplicity
  • Ongoing attention to technical know-how
  • Sustainable development
  • Working product as an indication of progress
  • Effective face-to-face communication
  • Having a matching atmosphere and motivated individuals
  • Collaboration of projects among Developers and business people
  • Frequent delivery
  • Welcoming changing requirements
  • Customer satisfaction

The Agile Methodology pays more focus on association. In the same way, this methodology leverages customer collaboration. The Agile principles pay attention to ongoing communication and governance that relies on established coordination between different people involved in the project.

Lean Vs. Agile – The Differences:

When talking about Lean Vs Agile, it is better to first understand how these methodologies are different from each other. 

Agility and Iteration Approach:

The goal of Agile is to deliver working product in the quickest possible time. Also, this approach aims at frequent product delivery as against delivery of bigger batches. Due to this practice, teams will find it easier to swiftly make changes to the upcoming batches of the same product based on the suggestions from customers. 

This approach of Agile is very much similar to the Lean Principle of Quicker Delivery. The idea here is that the faster a team can deliver value to customers, the quicker they can learn from the suggestions from customers.

Now, you might think that this is a feature similar to both these approaches. But, there is a difference. The difference is that in Lean Thinking, teams improve Agility by managing flow. They generally do it by restricting work-in-process. But, in the case of Agile, teams pay attention to small batch sizes for delivery swiftly. The delivery happens generally in Sprints.

Putting Customers First:

Again, this aspect seems to be a similarity that both Lean thinking and Agile methodology give importance to satisfaction to customers. But, the way they achieve it differs. For instance, Agile teams achieve customer satisfaction by paying attention to open communication between Developers, customers and end-users. The iterative approach of Agile methodology motivates constant feedback and permits changing requirements over time. Even, this happens in  the final stages of development.

Lean teams also put customers first. But, they do it differently compared to Agile Teams. Yes, Lean teams do it by paying attention to developing and improving processes that permit them to get rid of waste. To eliminate waste, the product should be payable by customers. Lean thinkers consider the manual completion of a task when it can be automated as waste. In the same way, they consider too much work in progress as a waste. The objective of Lean teams is to let the feedback of customers drive decisions. But, as against Agile teams, they give equal importance to streamlining processes as a technique to add value to customers.

Role of Discipline:

Previously Agile followers were highly regimented. Of course, nowadays, they are not much regimented. Yet, they still follow structured practices as compared to Lean followers. Agile teams depend on systematic reviews, estimation techniques, structured meetings and defining roles. Even, they depend on other structured Project Management practices. They do this for ensuring the proper working of the system. Indeed, shared principles are crucial for implementing Agile practices. Nevertheless, a streamlined process is what permits Agile teams to put changes into practice quickly.

Lean thinking also depends on discipline. However, the difference between Lean and Agile in this regard is that the dependency is in a different way. Successful implementation of Lean principles has turned out to be the culture of an organization. So, discipline in Lean practices is more about every individual and team in an organization backing the same Lean principles and less about sustaining external rules and expectations. In turn, the system operates not only efficiently but also smoothly.

In short, Lean principles rely on respect. It involves respect for the future state of the organization and also the present state and respect for fellow employees and customers. This respect makes Lean easier when it comes to implementation in theory but when it comes to implementing it in practice, it is more challenging, particularly across larger organizations.

Better Together:

The common thought, which is actually a misconception is that Agile and lean management are mutually exclusive. On the basis of basically different approaches and principles, they are applicable for varied kinds of activities. When it comes to Lean management it is ideal for repeatable and routine operations, while Agile is suitable only for creative tasks and projects. So, departments, functions or organizations should choose one and should give complete attention to it entirely.

In reality, both these practices have been successfully followed across different atmospheres. Both of them share a similar set of fundamental objectives. Yes, both of them aim at delivering better value to customers. They also focus on identifying better methods of working for ongoing learning and improvement.  Both of them connect goals and strategies transparently to help people contribute and lead to their complete potential. Both can undoubtedly bring value to any business. The idea is to achieve lean or Agile transformation with the help of a trained Lean or Agile Coach respectively.

  1. https://www.netsolutions.com/insights/lean-vs-Agile/
  2. https://twproject.com/blog/lean-Agile-differences-similarities/
  3. https://www.trio.dev/blog/lean-vs-Agile
  4. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/lean-management-or-Agile-the-right-answer-may-be-both



Is a passionate learner and blogger on Agile, Scrum and Scaling areas. She has been following and practicing these areas for several years and now converting those experiences into useful articles for your continuous learning.