Lean Methodology vs. Agile: Which Is the Right Methodology for You?

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Aug 18, 2022
Updated on
Mar 26, 2023
Table of Content

Lean methodology and Agile are two popular approaches to project management. Lean is a more traditional approach that emphasizes efficiency and quality control. Agile, on the other hand, is a newer approach that focuses on flexibility and speed. 

So which one is better? Lean vs. Agile is a debate that has been going on for years, and there is no clear consensus. Each method has numerous advantages and downsides, and it all comes down to the project's individual requirements.

However, many experts believe that Lean and Agile are not mutually exclusive; they can be used together to create a more holistic approach to project management.

When it comes to Lean vs. Agile, there is a lot of misinformation out there. In this blog article, we will clarify any misunderstandings and explain the essential distinctions that exist between these two approaches to project management.

We will start by discussing what Lean and Agile are, and then move on to their similarities and differences. In the end, we shall share our concluding comments regarding them.

What is Lean Methodology?

Lean is an approach to business that was established by Toyota and is based on the ideas of their Lean Manufacturing method. Toyota first introduced the concept in the Toyota Production System, developed by Japanese engineers Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda. 

It is an approach to business that focuses on waste reduction and efficiency. The Lean methodology is a production system based on demand rather than supply. This means that instead of producing products or services and then trying to sell them, Lean methodology focuses on creating what the customer wants, and delivering it to them. 

Lean methodology focuses on seven fundamental principles: eliminating waste, building quality, creating knowledge, deferring commitment, delivering fast, respecting people, and optimizing the whole.

This method has numerous advantages, one of which is that it has been modified for use in software development, a field in which the primary goal is to provide as much value as possible for the client in the shortest amount of time, while minimizing labor loss.

Kaizen is a crucial part of the Lean methodology. It is a Japanese word that means “improvement” or “change for the better.” Kaizen is about making small, incremental changes to achieve significant long-term results.

The goal is to produce more value for the customer while using fewer resources. Lean relies on a continuous improvement process, which means constantly looking for ways to streamline operations and eliminate waste. 

What Is Agile Methodology?

Agile methodology is an approach to the creation of software that is iterative and incremental. Within this methodology, requirements and solutions are co-created by cross-functional teams responsible for their own organization.

The Agile methodology was first described in the Agile Manifesto, published in 2001. The Agile movement started in software development as a response to waterfall methodologies. There are 12 Agile Manifesto Principles that underpin the Agile methodology:

  1. Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
  3. Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months).
  4. Projects are built around motivated individuals who should be trusted.
  5. A face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location).
  6. Software development happens in short cycles called Sprints.
  7. Self-organizing teams decide how best to achieve their goals.
  8. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  9. Sustainable development, ability to maintain a constant pace.
  10. Continuous attention to technical excellence and sound design.
  11. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  12. Project collaboration amongst business people and developers.

Agile methodology promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continual improvement. The Agile method was created as an alternative to waterfall methodologies, which were found to be inflexible. 

Agile methods or approaches focus on delivering the project in smaller increments, allowing course correction along the way as new information or changes arise. 

The fundamental principle of Agile is that "the customer comes first." The customer's needs should always precede process or delivery schedules. Agile teams work in short cycles, known as Sprints, and they continuously track progress and revise their plans based on feedback from customers or users.

Agile has four defining guidelines:

  • Individuals and interactions over tools and processes
  • Functional software above comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile teams are typically small, cross-functional, and self-organizing. This allows them to respond rapidly to changes without losing sight of the overall goal. Agile methodology has been widely adopted in the software development industry, but it can be applied to any type of project.

What is the Agile Development process?

Lean vs. Agile: Similarities

Lean and Agile are two popular management methodologies with many similarities. Lean and agile are not mutually exclusive—in fact, many organizations use both Lean and Agile methodologies to achieve their goals. 

  • Lean and Agile are dedicated to optimizing the process, whether described as 'optimize the whole' in Lean or 'responding to change over following a plan’ in Agile.
  • Both methodologies prioritize customer satisfaction by delivering value early and often. Lean does this through waste elimination and continuous improvement, while Agile focuses on collaboration and cross-functional teams.
  • Lean and Agile emphasize the importance of continuous learning. In Lean methodology, this is known as kaizen, while in Agile, it is called technical excellence. The idea is that developers should constantly invest time in learning new skills and exploring new approaches. This helps them be better prepared to meet clients' ever-changing needs.
  • Another similarity between Lean and Agile is their iterative nature. Lean and Agile both operate in short cycles, which allows for faster feedback and implementation of changes.

While Lean and Agile each have their own strengths and weaknesses, they share a common goal of process optimization and an emphasis on customer satisfaction.

Lean vs. Agile: Differences

  • Lean is focused on eliminating waste. This includes reducing the time to market, maximizing value for the customer, and reducing scope creep. Agile, on the other hand, is heavily dependent on collaboration between all the stakeholders involved in the development process. This includes business partners, developers, end-users, etc.
  • In Lean, the focus is on delivering as fast as possible, while in Agile, the focus is on iteration to gather feedback and improve. 
  • Lean is a more holistic approach focusing on the entire team or organization, whereas Agile focuses on specific team roles, meetings, and review processes.
  • Lean is a way of thinking; Agile is a way of doing. Lean thinking emphasizes continuous improvement. In contrast, Agile methodology can be implemented through frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban, which offer tools and processes for applying Agile principles.
  • Lean is best suited for well-defined and relatively predictable projects, while Agile is better suited for innovative projects requiring a lot of change.
  • The Lean methodology aims to design a procedure that generates the possible benefit for the end user with the least amount of time and energy.  Agile, on the other hand, is focused on speed and flexibility. The objective is to hand over fully functional software in the shortest possible time while still preserving a high-quality standard.

Final Thoughts

Agile and Lean are popular project management methodologies that can help you get your projects done efficiently and effectively. But which one is right for you?

It all depends on your specific needs and goals. Agile might be a better fit if you value flexibility and speed. If you want to minimize waste and maximize efficiency, Lean might be a better choice.

Lean methodology is more focused on optimizing the flow of value to the customer, while Agile methodology is more concerned with meeting customer needs through a series of iterations. 

Lean and Agile also have fundamental similarities: both emphasize collaboration, communication, and customer feedback. However, there are significant differences as well, which we’ve outlined in this article. 

Ultimately, the best way to decide is to experiment with both methodologies and see which works better for you and your team. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to project management. The key is finding the best methodology for your specific needs and goals.

If you’re still unsure which one to choose, or if you’d like help implementing either methodology, reach out to us at GoRetro. GoRetro is an expert in assisting businesses in enhancing their processes to become more productive and efficient and can assist you in putting into action a Lean or Agile strategy that is crafted specifically for your organization.

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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