Lean or Agile – How to choose?

Lean or Agile – How to choose?

There are plenty of buzz words surrounding projects and development teams. Leaders will toss around phrases like “on task,” “ever adapting” and “customer first” often, no matter how the team is being managed. Agile and Lean are sometimes presented as the two sides of the same coin which are interchangeable. 15 Dec 2016, by Ciklum

Kseniia Tretyakova, Ciklum’s Process and Project Management Consultant with 7+ years of experience in Project Management helped us clarify the difference between these two approaches.

What is Agile?

Agile has been around for the last few years, since the time its principles were published in the Agile Manifesto. Agile was born as a response to traditional, heavyweight software development methodologies focused on creating software, instead of satisfying clients’ needs in the fastest possible way.



As small tasks are performed over short periods of time, clients are able to shape the end product each step of the way if they’d truly like to.


Lean or Agile - How to choose?


What is Lean?

This management style originated in the manufacturing sector from Lean Manufacturing, and share many of the principles of Agile.

Focusing on delivering a high-quality product quickly, Lean looks to shed anything that would be wasteful when it come to operational efficiency.

This is especially true when it comes to repetitive tasks, which points back to its initial manufacturing background. Eliminating waste means eliminating useless meetings, actions, tasks, documentation and others.

Lean tells us to do only things we need now and avoid anything not adding value at this moment of time. This is what truly aligned with continuous improvement in Agile.


improvement in Agile


Lean approach is very well illustrated by the Empire State Building example. The stakeholders wanted to build the tallest building in the world and to complete it by May 1, 1931. They set up a building committee to make timely decisions and to avoid the construction progress delays. Shreve, Lamb and Harmon made innovative design decisions in consultation with the committee to speed the construction. Starrett Bros. & Eken continued to look for more efficiency by improving the system. They all focused on the overall system to achieve the goal.

As a result, the overall system of design and construction was simplified and allowed eliminating wastes in the system. A collaborative team approach, a common and clear goal of the tallest building in the world in record time was a unique concept. It was implemented by lean principles in the time when principles of lean management were not even formalized yet.


Which is right for you?

If someone tells you “Lean is the new Agile” or “Lean is cooler than Agile”, run away now. Both have quite similar values and goals, but which is right for you and your client greatly depends on the business goal – what you need to deliver – and constraints like budget, staff background and completion date.

While these are two quite similar approaches, they have both had success in the IT field.

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