Agile, Lean: What’s the Diff?

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Two people dancing lean and agileWe often hear “Lean” and “Agile” together in the same breath. Are they the same? Or different?

Lean originates from Lean Manufacturing, the Toyota Production System, aka the Toyota Kata.

Lean is a set of principles for achieving quality, speed & customer alignment. (Hmm… hope that sounds familiar and very close to what an agile approach seeks.)

In a nutshell, lean says relentlessly eliminate anything that isn’t adding value and only work on what we absolutely need to be doing at this moment in time.

Eliminating waste means doing away with useless meetings, valueless tasks, timewasters, etc.

“Organizations that are truly lean have a strong competitive advantage because they respond very rapidly and in a highly disciplined manner to market demand, rather than try to predict the future.” Mary Poppendieck

Key Principles of Lean

  1. Eliminate Waste
  2. Build Quality / Build Integrity  In
  3. Create Knowledge / Amplify Learning
  4. Defer Commitment / Decide Late
  5. Deliver Fast (Continuously)
  6. Respect People / Empower the Team
  7. Optimize the Whole / See the Whole

Lean also puts a very strong emphasis on what it calls “the system” – that is, the way that the team operates as part of a large whole – the organization

Overlaying lean and agile illuminates how they are mutually compatible, even symbiotic:

Lean + Agile Will Fix Everything, Right?

Uh… no, sorry. A lean+agile approach will not give you answers. Instead, it will expose your problems to the light of day and in that way act as a catalyst for continuous improvement.

It will be up to you to deal with problems by changing your system(s). And system change begins with behavior change. Which leads to cultural change. This then leads to system changes that encourage more behavior changes….

Oh… how about that: a reinforcing loop!

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