It’s bothered me for a while now: why do Agile proponents regularly claim that what they are doing is Lean? It’s clearly not – the first item in the Agile Manifesto:

we have come to value:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

conflicts very strongly with the hard emphasis on standardisation and conformance to process, even while improving it.

Are they antithetical? Is it an either/or?

After some thought – and despite continued annoyance at the simplistic thinking and tendency to inappropriately claim victory for Agile – I’m not convinced.

I think that they share many of the same (correct) desire for Customer Value, and intolerance for stuff that gets in the way of it.

I think the two are opposite ends of a spectrum, where the main vector is degree of change:

  • Agile approaches are designed to cope with high levels of change
  • Lean requires predictability: standardisation, levelling.
  • Agile primarily does this by empowering individuals to work beyond the constraints of process/system.
  • Lean does this by using the intelligence of individuals to remove inefficiencies in process/system.

Or to put another way: you’d use Agile to find a trade route across the mountain passes. You’d use Lean to turn it into a Swiss Rail system (an ongoing and never ending process).

Both approaches have a lot to offer where you have an ongoing stream of enhancements in an existing environment, rather than the classic unique project to get a system up and running, and I think there’s an interesting strategy to be defined in starting up in an Agile mode, and as you mature, moving towards Lean methods.


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