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Lean versus Agile

Over the past couple of years, I have done a fair amount of exploration and deep-diving on Lean. It has been an educational and enlightening experience. Coming from a strong Agile and Scrum background, I had exposure to Lean, but always considered it as simply another tool under the greater agile umbrella. I am no longer sure this is the case.

Today, I view Lean and Agile as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Like peanut butter and chocolate, they are two wonderful and amazing things. The real magic happens when you put them together.

If you were like me, you may be wondering why I claim they are separate and distinct. There are several reasons for this (see chart below) but it’s mainly around their histories and goals.

Agile
Development-centric (software)
Adaptive; empirical
Iterative (timeboxed)
Emphasis on individuals and interaction

Lean
Manufacturing-centric
Holistic (concept to cash)
Flow-based (continuous)
Emphasis on eliminating waste

So, is Agile the chocolate or the peanut butter? I really want Agile to be the chocolate because personally I love chocolate and really don’t care for peanut butter (unless it’s a peanut butter cup) but, I don’t think that is the case.

I think that Lean could stand on its own if it became necessary, I’m not so sure about Agile. In other words, Lean can be effective without Agile, but Agile is nothing without Lean principles and practices. Fortunately, we live in a world where both can co-exist, complement each other, and thrive.

If you are interested in Lean, you can find a copy of a presentation that I gave recently in the downloads page. I would also recommend the following books:

  • Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash (Mary and Tom Poppendieck; 2007)
  • Leading Lean Software Development: Results Are Not The Point (Mary and Tom Poppendieck; 2010)
  • Kanban In Action (Marcus Hammarberg and Joakim Sunden; 2017)
  • The Lean Startup:How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (Eric Ries; 2011)
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