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Lean & Agile – where they intersect

Here is a quick rundown on the cross over between the two methods.

Often when newbies are discussing Agile Methods, the vocabulary becomes confused.  The two terms that can be misued are ‘Agile’ and ‘Lean’.   They are quite different.  This  article will introduce you to some good articles to read to get your head around it all.

In today’s fast paced global market, an organisations ability to deliver products on time that deliver value is one thing.  Speed and quality of product is another.  Organisations call upon Agile and Lean methodologies to help organisations move quickly  and produce better quality products.


So, what’s the difference? Put simply:

Agile promotes the breaking down of work into small, frequent iterations and achieve continuous value delivery.

Lean promotes loss reduction, and optimizes production to minimize waste.

Importantly, it should be understood Lean and Agile work together and are complimentary.

If you read no other article recommended here – read this one : In his post What tool should I use: Agile, Lean or Design Thinking?  Our co-founder Paul McNamara says

“If you frame Agile more broadly as a set of cultures and values that focus on meeting customer needs through  quick iterations, continuous delivery, responding to change, and empowering employees, it can be used as an umbrella for a very effective toolkit.”


The “dual track” approach from Jeff Patton, suggests there is continual discovery and development – and the two streams are dovetailed.


Anthony Murphy, in his story, discovered that just a single google search will throw up hundreds of answers to agile vs lean vs design question.   He goes on to hypothesis that the reason it’s an ongoing google search, is because Agile and Lean are mindsets.  And it’s hard to visualise a mindset.    He’s not wrong.

“I understand the human desire for linear process and clarity — executives want a ‘how-to’ guide — but that’s not how mindsets work, they’re not plug-and-play, not puzzle pieces that can be easily put together.”

When Mina Guris, a consultant in Adaptovate’s Sydney office, was asked, he put it simply,

“By using the Agile iterative ‘test and learn’ approach, where we regularly check our progress with the customers/end users, we become ‘Leaner’ as we eliminate the waste in building/providing things that the customers don’t value”


In 2015 Ryan Norris pondered  is the intersection of lean, agile, and design thinking the 3 pillars of product development?”

“By integrating this 3rd leg of the lean product development approach, we fill in the ethnographic and anthropological component of solution building: lean startup, and agile in particular don’t emphasize user experience and segmentation as part of their methodology.  Agile is very focused on the iterative discovery of requirements, not problems.  Lean is very focused on testing what we think in the name of learning – which is closer to what we think when we think of design thinking.”


Christie Marsh, in this article outlines these three differences between the two approaches:

Tactical vs Strategic

Philosophy vs Tools

Software Development vs Enterprise.


When I asked Steve Walton from our New York office,  about where the intersection between Agile and Lean he explained,  “There are many views of Agile, however core to most of these are principles such as transparency, iteration, experimentation, cross functionality and empowerment. These principles are complemented by Lean’s wastage reduction mindset.”

Two examples of this that Steve provides are:

  1. The Minimum Viable Product concept, where only the necessary elements are considered.
  2. Agile retrospectives where activities can includE using a Lean lens to identify wastage in the way the team works such as identification of idle time, defects and under-utilisation.

To finish up, if you are new to Agile and Lean, this video from the team at CA technologies is a great 2 minute explanation of the differences.   In it, LongDa Yin simply explains that Agile is about being adaptive.  And Lean is about a systems view of the value stream.

“Together, both concepts limit working process and invite us to measure how much value is delivered rather than mearly how much work is being done.”


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