Lean and Agile: differences and similarities

agile and lean

Agile and Lean are two popular methods in the project management world that help teams deliver faster, more sustainable results.

However, the differences and similarities between these two methodologies are often not clear.

Even the terms themselves are often used in the wrong manner, as synonyms to describe a particular set of practices.

For a project manager, it is important to understand the differences and similarities between Lean and Agile methodology in order to guarantee the correct application and to obtain an effective and efficient organization.

What is the Lean methodology?

“Lean” generally refers to a set of knowledge called more specifically “Lean Manufacturing“, developed in Japan in the ’50s and’ 60s by an engineer named Taiichi Ohno.

Lean Manufacturing has transformed many traditional concepts including:

  • Production should be based on demand and not on supply. It is simply about doing something when someone wants it and orders it, rather than doing it first, hoping then that someone will need it;
  • The production is more efficient if performed in small lots in order to exploit economies of scale;
  • Taking the time to focus on quality also increases production and efficiency;
  • Employers, not managers, are responsible for defining their method of working;
  • Rather than executing predefined tasks over and over again, workers must continually improve their way of working (the so-called “Kaizen”).

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These ideas, at that time, seemed to be heretical in the eyes of the American and Western industry, but the Japanese industrial organizations that adopted these philosophies quickly outperformed their “colleagues”.

In short, the Lean methodology says to implacably eliminate all that does not add value.

Eliminating waste means eliminating unnecessary meetings, tasks and documentation, but also means eliminating inefficient methods of working, such as multitasking.

The Lean methodology also places a very strong emphasis on what is called “the system”, i.e. the way the team works as a whole.

Work should always be seen from a higher level in order to ensure that the process are really optimized.

This methodology says to respect the fact that the people who do the job are those who know how to do it at the best. Once they receive what they need to be effective, they must be left “alone” and trusted.

What is the Agile methodology?

Agile refers to a set of values and principles set out in the Agile Manifesto.

The Agile Manifesto basically underlines the following aspects:

  • Interaction of individuals on tools and processes
  • Collaboration with potential customers in the negotiation of project results
  • Respond to change with a plan

The Agile methodology is very similar to the Lean methodology and for this reason you will see many similar points between these two.

The Agile methodology, in general, is more based on development rather than production.

Agile and Lean are very similar …

There are some clear similarities between the Agile and the Lean methodology.

The Lean methodology expects the construction of objects / products in the least possible number of lots. According to the concept that it is more efficient this way.

The Agile methodology provides many small frequent versions of a product, rather than a large production.

The Lean methodology also says that every process should be continuously inspected and adapted in order to improve it. This method is therefore very focused on continuous improvement, the so-called Kaizen.

The Agile methodology also provides for regular checks of the results and of the working method in order to evaluate possible improvements.

Another similarity between Lean and Agile is the focus on cooperation between employees.

In both methodologies, the people – the workers – who perform the tasks are more important than the tools they use.

agile and lean (3)

When it comes to Agile and Lean, nothing is more important than the final result. This result must create value for the customer and is the only goal of the development process.

The Agile methodology allows the client to constantly adapt his needs, while the Lean provides for the manufacture of the product in such a way that there is no waste. In any case, the customer must get exactly what he expects.

But Agile and Lean are also very different

The main difference is that the Agile methodology concerns the optimization of a development process, while the Lean method concerns the optimization of a production process.

In production we generally have a predefined product and we want to produce as many high quality products as possible, in the most economic way possible.

In production, variation and rework are negative and expensive, while in a development process they are good and optimal.

Indeed, in the development process the factors are continuously reviewed and are changed according to new information or feedback.

It is no coincidence that Lean Management was born in the industrial sector with the intention of making production systems more efficient, while the Agile methodology was born in the creative and software development environment.

In the first it is important that processes work in such a way that no waste occurs. This ultimately translates into a final product that is produced as efficiently as possible.

In the second situation, instead, the development of prototypes is foreseen, which are first tested and evaluated in order to then develop the final product.

But the differences between Lean and Agile are not over.

The Lean methodology is often applied to improve processes in all organizations. On the other hand, the Agile methodology is applied within a team, often composed of no more than a dozen people.

So Lean or Agile?

It is difficult to say which methodology is better. This is something that people must understand for themselves and also depends on the organization and the type of project that must be developed.

Both methods are strictly interconnected, everything revolves around the focus on customers and giving them the product they want in the most efficient way possible.

Each method has its strengths and weaknesses and it is necessary to know the characteristics of both in order to be able to evaluate them.

In our experience, success and productivity are linked to how you manage two aspects of work management:

  1. Carefully model the complexities of your work environment – and here, of course, Twproject assists you perfectly
  2. Bring this complexity to something simple, light, quickly manageable and upgradeable by the individual user.

beyond the ideas that surround the “agile” management and the “getting things done” revolve around this process.

And what methodology do you use? Why did you choose it and what are the advantages for you? Tell us about your experience.

Improve your project management method.

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