What is the difference between lean and agile?

Agile and lean consist of two project management methods that help teams deliver results efficiently. Lean management stems from the term Lean Manufacturing that was used by Japanese engineers in the 1950s that focused on eliminating waste in manufacturing. This was vastly different from western companies because production was based upon demand and not supply. Agile management was adopted in the early dotcom era where software companies were rushing to produce the best software solutions. Both of these methods have their pros and cons and largely depend on execution to produce results.

 what is the difference between lean and agile_SDS_Strategic data systems

Agile and lean management have several similarities. Lean management focuses on eliminating waste, so production should be optimized to use the least number of objects needed to construct the product. This is very similar to agile which focuses on increasing the number of improvements to a product over a span of time. Both of these methods focus on rapidly improving the product to make the best final product in the most efficient timespan. In addition to the focus on continuous improvement, both methodologies rely on the collaboration of teams. In lean management, there is little bureaucracy because unnecessary management brings about waste. This is similar to agile because there is little to no supervision besides evaluating the product. This focus on best team practices leads to one more similarity these methodologies share: focus on best result. The entire purpose of these two methodologies is to improve the current industry standard by providing a better final result by minimizing waste.


The main difference between agile and lean management is that agile focuses on the improvement of the development process while lean focuses on the improvement of the production process. This is exhibited by their different views on variation and redoing work. In production, the final product is well known along with the pieces needed to create it; the goal is to provide the final result with the smallest amount of mistakes possible. Variations and redoing work in production leads to slower production times which combats the entire premise of lean management. In contrast, redoing work and variation in the development process leads to a more refined product and development process. Each time some more work is done in development, the product gets better. This is why lean management worked well in industrial sectors and agile worked better in software development sectors. Also, lean management works great in large organizations where roles are clearly defined. This would lead to maximum production and minimize waste; in this case, agile would lead to chaos within the organization. In contrast, agile works well for small teams in which management is more of a hindrance than an aid.


Both of these management methods have positive and negatives and the result of these practices generally depend on company size and the nature of work that is done. For software organizations, agile is likely a better alternative to lean because more improvements are made to the final product. For an inventory-dependent industrial company, lean management is likely more efficient because any minimal change to a production process can greatly improve or reduce efficiency.

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Posted in Agile, Lean