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Difference Between Lean and Agile

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by Ruchitha Geebu
Last modified: April 22nd 2021

In the project management universe, Agile and Lean are two favored methods for various industries. And for a good reason - they help teams increase their efficiency and deliver high-quality results quickly and sustainably. Both ways are flexible philosophies and focus on the end-users.

In this article, we will look at the differences between Agile vs. Lean in depth. But before that, let us understand why it's essential to learn about each of them.

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Lean vs Agile - Which is Better?

Why does it matter?

When professionals try understanding the meaning of Agile vs. Lean, they are often confused. Here's why: Agile and Lean both share pretty common principles and goals. The similarities between both methods confuse the teams who practice them. They do not have a clear understanding of the terms and sometimes use them synonymously when describing their practices. In fact, companies adopt a Lean framework instead of Agile.

In simple words, failure to understand the principles behind the methodologies can lead to a loss for the Lean and Agile teams' goals for the organization.

Therefore, it is necessary to have a clear overview of both Agile and Lean so that the teams can select, adopt, and implement a methodology that meets their needs.

Before we understand the key differences and similarities between the two methodologies, let us first grasp the Lean method.

What is the Lean methodology?

The central purpose of the Lean methodology in business is to promote the flow of customer value through two principles: continuous improvement and respect for people.

"Lean is both a philosophy and a discipline which, at its core, increases access to information to ensure responsible decision making in the service of creating customer value." - Jim Benson of Modus Cooperandi.

The methodology's modern approach to business is continually evolving. From sales to software development, many teams across numerous organizations worldwide are adopting Lean methodology principles. In conclusion, its core purpose includes: building healthy and resilient organizations, enhancing the resources available and the efforts of the teams, delivering high-quality value to customers.

[ Related Article: What is Lean Management ]

What is an Agile methodology?

If you're part of software development, you must have already heard the term Agile. Modern technology companies apply the agile methodology for software development. In a 2018 Agile Report, 97% of organizations practiced agile. Now, in 2020, the prevalent practice is becoming widespread within organizations and is continuously evolving.

So what exactly is Agile? It is a methodology in the software development lifecycle of a project that promotes continuous iteration of development and testing.

The four core values of the agile methodology are:

  • Individuals and teams interact with processes and tools.
  • Comprehensive documentation for working software.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Choosing to respond to change instead of following a plan.

Why Agile & Lean?

In a changing world of engagements, both socially and digitally, organizations are always on the lookout to improve managing their business.

Both Agile and Lean solve two of the main issues of dysfunction in organizations:

  1. Waterfall project management: A disciplined, step-by-step approach to planning and goal setting.
  2. Functional hierarchical organizational structures.

After understanding Agile and Lean core purpose, let's move on to the critical similarities between agile and lean methodologies.

[ Related Article: Lean Manufacturing Tools ]

Agile vs Lean: Key Similarities

Let's take a look at the similarities between agile and lean software development methodologies. Here are three key ones.

Focus - Customer value

Both Agile and Lean methodologies focus on delivering customer value. Making clients happy and making the processes more manageable for the teams are two core motivations for both methods.

Target - Project Management Speed

Both Agile and Lean methodologies have a target to increase the project management speed for organizations. Their primary efforts are in boosting the efficiency in developing a product.

Importance - Teamwork

What is important for both Agile and Lean methodologies is to have trust in their teammates. After all, all business success is due to teamwork. The efficiency and productivity of the team members can help them reach maximum success.

[ Related Article: Lean Interview Questions - Beginners ]

Agile vs Lean: Key Differences

Let us discuss the key differences between Agile vs. Lean in the following comparison table.

Feature 
Agile
Lean
Definition
It is a software development model that follows iterative development. During its entire life cycle, it includes six phases.
It is also a software development model acquired from the Manufacturing model.
Development
Frameworks like Scrum and Kanban developed Agile.
The transition of manufacturing principles and processes develop Lean.
Integration
Delivering small product parts leads to final development and integration.
The principles of the Lean model can help in development and integration.
Time
The applications and products are performed and delivered dynamically.
Lean is used to improve the speed and quality of products.
Life Cycle
Agile's life cycle has six different phases.
Lean's development model has seven principles.
Built-in facilities
Suitable frameworks help in product development. 
Lean builds small batches.
Ease of use
Dynamic requirement changes are effortless.
Lean is not flexible for dynamic deliverable changes.
Flexibility
Organizations choose a suitable framework for product development.
Continuous inspection and adaptation of the product are possible in Lean.

Agile vs Lean: The Key Comparison

We have seen a broad overview of the differences between agile and lean methodologies. Now, let's look further at three key differences.

[ Related Article: Lean Vs Six Sigma - Differences ]

Approach to speed and iteration

The primary aim of Agile is to deliver working software as fast as possible. Teams use feedback from customers to make changes to their upcoming work. Another advantage is that products are provided frequently rather than delivering large batches at once.

Similarly, the principle of Deliver Fast in Lean has a simple idea: The quicker a team delivers value to a customer, the sooner they can utilize the feedback. The difference here is that in Lean, the companies increase their speed by limiting their work-in-process. On the other hand, Agile teams focus on small batch sizes in sprints to deliver faster.

Method for putting customers first

In both approaches, customer satisfaction is a primary goal. In agile, teams focus on open communication between customers, developers, and end-users. In contrast, Lean teams put customers first by streamlining their processes.

Role of discipline

Agile implementations are more structured than Lean practices. It means that Agile relies on disciplined processes that allow the teams to adapt to change quickly.

On the other hand, in Lean, the discipline holds a different meaning. Teams rely on supporting external expectations and rules.

Wrapping Up

In comparison to Lean, the Agile software development model has more significant benefits regarding principles, processes, and structure. The Agile life cycle contains six phases, whereas the Lean life cycle includes seven. Choosing either Agile or Lean can be a difficult choice for organizations. But ultimately, the end-user requirements, number of target customers, the complexity of products all contribute to the decision.

This article has been a guide to the key differences between Agile vs Lean. You may also have a look at a complete guide for Agile Project Management - Agile Project Management: A Complete Guide for Beginners.

About Author

author
NameRuchitha Geebu
Author Bio

I am Ruchitha, working as a content writer for MindMajix technologies. My writings focus on the latest technical software, tutorials, and innovations. I am also into research about AI and Neuromarketing. I am a media post-graduate from BCU – Birmingham, UK. Before, my writings focused on business articles on digital marketing and social media. You can connect with me on LinkedIn.