Agile vs Lean: A clear understanding between the two practices

When it comes to managing projects, all organizations want to use the best possible method to complete them in a timely manner. Timely delivery is not the only factor that determines the success of the project, though. Projects also need to be completed with the end-user in mind, and each aspect of a phase completion should focus on creating something that adds value and solves problems for the consumer.

Keeping this in mind, there are two popular means that organizations use to help them deliver their projects that are more sustainable and faster. Agile and Lean are the two most widely-used methodologies in project management. All project managers need to understand the value that each methodology brings to the table and then select the one that benefits their team the most. Choosing a methodology that is not the right fit for the project will often end up delaying the project and causing unnecessary problems.

This is why a clear understanding of what the Agile and Lean methodologies are is extremely important. It will help with applying the tools and techniques correctly as well so that the project gets completed in an effective and efficient manner. However, they can be confusing for many practitioners. So, here is a simple ‘Agile vs Lean’ article for you.

What is the Lean Methodology?

The Lean methodology was developed in Japan by an engineer named Taiichi Ohno in the 1950s for improving the processes in the manufacturing industry. The concept of Lean in project management was used to transform many traditional concepts of a working environment.

The Lean methodology in manufacturing showcases that the production of any part should be focused more on the demand for the part instead of the supply. Creating or doing something when no one has ordered it before there is a need for the product will make an unnecessary waste of time and resources. The main focus is working on the demand and not creating supply for a demand that does not exist yet.

Lean methods also create more efficient ways of completing projects. This is done by producing in smaller lots. It also emphasizes the importance of focusing on the quality of a product and how a product of higher quality can lead to a rise in its production and efficiency.

The Lean method gives the employees to decide their working methods instead of leaving it up to the managers to make the decision. This helps employees adopt practices that are most suitable to them and can increase their efficiency when it comes to completing a task.

Similar to Agile, the Lean method is focused on increment, but instead of adding new features and tasks to the existing product, the Lean way is focused more on improving the strategies involved in completing a seemingly repetitive task over time. It is also focused on removing all aspects of a project that do not add value to the project so team members can focus on what is important. The ‘waste’ being eliminated here includes unnecessary meetings, inefficient ways in which people work, multitasking, documentation, and more.

Teamwork is also an important part of the Lean methodology because it focuses on how the team works as a whole instead of focusing on each individual team member. Each team member should have the expertise in their role and should be left to decide how they want to complete their task. It considers the project as a whole and should be observed from a higher level to check if all the processes are optimized and work together cohesively.

Some of the short term improvements observed after teams shift to a Lean methodology for their projects are reduction in inventory by 90%, a 90% drop in the time it takes to develop leads, a 35% rise in productivity, 20% drop in costs, a 25% rise in profit margins, and more.

What is the Agile Methodology?

The Agile methodology is focused on creating an iterative workflow in teams that promotes continuous improvement with each iteration. It is focused more on product development and how it needs to be centered around the consumer needs. 

It states that the success of a project is heavily dependent on how individuals react to the Agile tools and processes, and how they create a collaborative relationship with their customers to determine the project results and success. The Agile method is flexible and allows team members the bandwidth to respond effectively to any changes. 

Since the Agile way is iterative and continuous, team members work simultaneously for each iteration to deliver the best result possible. Then they receive feedback and understand the changes that need to be made and what needs to be improved and then begin the next iteration to work on them and add any other features they feel the product or application will need. It relies on regular feedback to improve aspects of the product.

Agile is a very popular method of project management and nearly 25% of the highest performing companies who participated in a recent survey said they used Agile to complete their projects. Moving ahead with this ‘Agile vs Lean’ article, let us explore the key differences between lean and agile.

Agile vs Lean: The Differences

Agile was originally created as a Software Development Model that can be used to complete projects across departments in any organization. It has six main phases in its lifecycle. Lean is also used to develop software and complete projects but it was initially developed for use in the manufacturing industry.

The Agile method has different subsets like Scrum or Kanban which offer different frameworks for project completion. The Lean method can be developed for project management by using the transition principles from the manufacturing model and processes itself.

Applications or projects completed using Agile are delivered in a dynamic manner that takes customer feedback and implements them continuously to improve the product. Applications or projects completed with the Lean method are typically much faster and more efficient.

The main principle behind the Agile methodology is that it is focused on the scope of the final product and the value it can create for its user. The Lean principle is about improving the quality of the product which will help in creating value for the user and also focusing on the speed of development and delivery.

Final Thoughts

Both Agile and Lean methodologies focus on improving the development process to increase the quality of the final product. This can only take place if the team members have a deep understanding of both the methodologies so that it can be implemented successfully. There are many certification and training courses they can complete to gain a better understanding of the Agile and Lean methodologies. 

So, what are your thoughts on ‘Agile vs Lean’? Let us know in the comments.

Some of the popular Agile and Lean courses that individuals and enterprise teams that can take up are:

Certified ScrumMaster Certification Training

Certified Agile Leadership Training

Agile Scrum Foundation Certification Training

Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Training

Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Training

Lean Fundamentals Training

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Billie Keita is known for her exemplary skills in implementing project management methodologies and best practices for business critical projects. She possesses 10+ years of experience in handling complex software development projects across Europe and African region. She also conducts many webinars and podcasts where she talks about her own experiences in implementing Agile techniques. She is a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and PMI Project Management Professional (PMP)®, and has published many articles across various websites.


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