What’s the difference between Lean and Agile?

PIN Lean and Agile @rzarref Rafael Ferraz

Since Lean and Agile share many of the same principles, I prefer to say they share a common philosophy regarding the management of people and products and nowadays, is the way best to succeed in a business environment.

Is common we to hear when the business wants to be more agile, the leaders say together in the same phrase the words “Lean” and “Agile.” Unfortunately, I hear that just as a buzzword all the time, and sometimes the leaders say in the same phrase: “fail fast, fail often.” About that last “buzzword” let’s talk in the next time

My goal in this article is to fix this issue: please, let’s stop lumping together “Lean” and “Agile.” They are drastically different concepts.

Lean is a term generally associated with the removal of waste and inefficient processes to improve an outcome. In other words, it’s a methodology in which to streamline. A relatively well-known historical example of “Lean” is the Toyota Way, a pioneering manufacturing process in the production of cars. The Toyota Way involves — among other components — a continuous improvement mindset (known as kaizen) alongside a “respect for people” behavioral attribute.

It is a focus on the system as a whole, particularly people and their respective roles and responsibilities. To organization gain efficiencies the, good “Lean” will involve all employees — particularly front-line team members — to assuage problems, reduce costs, and so on. In essence, “Lean” is a very healthy way to operate an entire organization if senior leaders wish to involve everyone indeed. However, Lean is not Agile. The terms are not synonymous.

Agile got its roots in the software development space, specifically via the introduction of Manifesto for Software Development in 2001. The authors of the Agile Manifesto did a great job of picking a term with universal appeal. There are 12 principles to Agile Development such as “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software,” and “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”

Agile also includes frequent checkpoints with the customer — where the customer is an integral part of the development team — which allows there to be constant and timely changes to the software service or product that is in development. Often there are self-organizing teams in a right Agile environment, too.

The problem in making a confused this terms is that often when the business wants to be more agile, the departments, assume that they are being told to adopt an agile methodology, but Scrum, Kanban, and XP are just implementation details.

When the business wants to adopt lean principles, the departments, in particular, IT, often assume that they are being told to implement the Lean/Kanban methodology. However, the business wants to shorter cycle times and reducing waste.

The reality is that all of the agile methodologies are techniques to apply lean principles to software development.

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