Agile and Lean - Same or Different?

Agile and Lean

You might ask whether Agile and Lean are the same or different. Which one is the best methodology for your business? Below are my views on the main similarities and differences between the two.


Similarities in Agile and Lean 

The core similarities between Agile and Lean are listed as follows:

Development approach

Lean development encourages to limit the work-in-progress (WIP). Agile methodology also promotes incremental development within short, time-boxed iterations. Both methologies have a similar approach to reduce the batch size. 

Continuous Improvement

Lean is very focused on Kaizen or continuous improvement. Agile, too, encourages inspect and adapt activities (such as product demo and retrospectives) that promote continuous improvement. 


Teamwork is one of the core values defined in Toyota Way 2001. Lean methodology encourages collaboration between team members. Agile methodology also focuses on collaboration (refer to the two statements from the Agile Manifesto below):

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

One of the 12 Agile principles, ‘Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.’ highlights the significance of teamwork and collaboration. 

Customer-centric approach

Lean is a customer-centric methodology. It delivers the best quality work in the shortest sustainable lead time. Similarly, Agile is customer-centric as well. For instance, the 1st Agile principle, ‘Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.’ is customer-focused.

Just-in-Time (JIT) approach

With Just-in-Time (JIT) approach, teams build only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the quantities needed. Both Agile and Lean methodologies support this approach. In Lean, work items are pulled only when needed. In other words, a lean engineer starts working on a new Kanban card only when the WIP limit allows the same. 

Similarly, Agile development promotes the JIT approach. It encourages teams to refine, design, and document only the prioritized work items. Moreover, Agile concepts, such as incremental development and emergent design, reinforce this approach.

Waste Elimination

Lean is the major proponent to eliminate waste. Agile methodology, too, supports this concept by delaying decisions until the last responsible moment (LRM). With Agile, any possible rework is minimized.


Differences in Agile and Lean

Some of the core differences between Agile and Lean are as follows:


Lean management was originated in the manufacturing sector. The original intent was to reduce waste within the Toyota Production System (TPS). Agile methodology, on the contrary, was conceived by the software development thinkers to solve problems with the traditional, plan-based approach.

Nature of work

Lean is best suited for:

  • Managing work that flows through different workflow states
  • Optimizing an existing workflow process
  • Simple and repetitive tasks
  • Eliminating blockers or waste

Agile, on the other hand, is best suited for:

  • Developing complex products
  • Managing work that requires research and experimentation
  • Delivering maximum business value
  • Adapting to frequent changes 
  • Encouraging team collaboration

End Goal

With Lean, the end goal is to deliver work that:

  • Has high-quality.
  • Is released within the shortest sustainable lead time.
  • Is carried out in the most economical way.
  • Has minimal redundancies or waste.

With Agile, the end goal is to deliver a product that:

  • Has the maximum business value.
  • Responds quickly to the changing business needs.
  • Is built incrementally and iteratively.

Team Size

The Lean methodology is applied to improve processes in large enterprises and teams. With Lean, the Value stream mapping helps to visualize end-to-end journeys for large organizations.

On the other hand, Agile is most effective when applied to smaller teams, with a team size of 5-8 people.


More articles:


Learn more on Agile, Lean, Scrum, Kanban, and Enterprise Agility with below books:


Now that you understand the similarities and differences of Agile and Lean, you can select the methodology that works best for your team. Feel free to add a comment to this post and share your experiences with me. 

Posted in Agile and Lean and tagged , , , , , , , .


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