Lean vs Agile: Which Project Execution Approach To Choose?


December 19, 2022


March 17th, 2023

“The most important single aspect of software development is to be clear about what you are trying to build.” – Bjarne Stroustrup

The software development arena has undergone revolutionary changes in the last few decades. Approaches to software development have been changing all through these years. With changes in organizational demands, behavior, and infrastructure, project methodologies have evolved over time, bringing in more flexibility, efficacy, robustness, successful returns, and increased productivity.

Two such popular names in the world of project execution methodologies are Lean and Agile. Though they have a lot of similarities, there are particular distinctions that differentiate their qualities and features. Often, they are used interchangeably. It is up to the project owners and managers to understand and analyze the difference between the two and choose wisely.

Organizations must be adaptable and flexible to react to changing market scenarios and offer the utmost customer satisfaction while driving software development in the right direction. Lean vs Agile is a constant comparison that is being made as methodologies that offer great innovation, speed, and good quality.

The Agile vs Lean evaluation gets interesting as they share common objectives and principles. This is one big reason organizations tend to get confused about which one to choose. Hence, understanding both, in detail and then comparing them against jotted parameters is important.

Before we evaluate the similarities and differences between Lean vs Agile, let us go through their individual characteristics and their salient features.

What is Lean Methodology?

The lean software development process depends upon the fundamentals of lean manufacturing. It focuses on offering great value to clients, reducing waste, and ensuring higher productivity. It originated through the manufacturing processes in the Toyota Production System.

It emphasizes that businesses must ensure processes that help in lessening waste and increasing consumer value, with minimal resources. It empowers organizations to act in a quick and effective manner, as per customer needs.

Basic Principles of Lean Development:
  • Eliminating waste in the form of incomplete work, defects, etc.
  • Building quality into all that users operate on in the frontend and backend
  • Faster delivery with shorter iterations and test-driven development
  • Creating knowledge to enhance team learning and gather feedback
  • Showing respect with transparent communication and leadership
  • Full optimization ensures a complete process and not just limited
  • Postponing commitment with a scare for over-planning

As we study what is Lean development, we see that organizations following the Lean methodology are driven to offer enhanced client value via continual enhancement of processes and products. Lean Software Development refers to waste as redundant processes, duplicate activities, and other low-valued tasks. This process does not go by prescribed rules of practice. Rather, it is open-ended, and flexible and goes by organizational needs and iterative development.

Key Benefits of Lean
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Lessened waste and better resource allocation
  • More efficiency matching market demand
  • Maximization of profits with the least waste
  • Focus on productive elements adding value
  • Offer quality with better customer satisfaction

What is Agile Methodology?

The Agile methodology is a popular approach that goes in for iteration and fast execution of changes as needed. It focuses on the importance of teamwork, customer, and agile developers.

Agile Software Development, a group of software development methods based on iterative and incremental development enforce collaboration between organized, collaborative teams for evolving requirements and their solutions compelling responsive planning, evolutionary development, and rapid and flexible response to change.

Basic Agile Principles:
  • Client satisfaction is the topmost focus area
  • Creation of projects around resources who are willing to work
  • In-person interaction to be promoted
  • Self-organized teams have technical superiority
  • Simple and sustainable development
  • Customer collaboration with regular communication
  • Cooperation between stakeholders in any project

It goes by the Agile Manifesto which says

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

As we study what is Agile methodology, we see that Agile is a novel approach that has different users and cross-functional teams. Because of its agile nature, it is easy to implement for better business solutions. There is early delivery and regular enhancement with fast changes in requirements on a routine basis.

Key Benefits of Agile
  • Enhanced client satisfaction
  • Well-tested and good-quality output
  • Better control and regular reporting
  • Flexibility and more interaction
  • Lesser risks and more risk control
  • Collaboration between teams


Lean vs Agile: The Similarities

  • Focus on customer value and keeping clients satisfied
  • Increase project management speed for businesses
  • Boost efficacy, productivity, and process optimization
  • Teamwork, collaboration, and trust in each other
  • Emphasis on people involved rather than tools
  • Continual improvement and regular inspections
  • More value to clients by responding to clients proactively
  • Incorporate iterative and short development
  • Empowered teams with no micromanagement

Lean vs Agile: Evaluating Two Top Software Development Methodologies

Parameters Lean Agile
Overview A software development approach derived from a manufacturing model. Based on manufacturing principles and processes. Builds small batches. It is like creating a new thing for the first time, for single use. It is all about eliminating waste. A software development approach based on iterative development. Based on frameworks like Scrum and Kanban, XP. Assists in product development. It is like creating the same thing again. Depends on cross-collaboration.
Principle Focusses on development speed and product quality Focusses on the value and scope of the product
History The Toyota Production System (TPS) was created to lessen inventory prices and eliminate waste. The Lean approach for software was later based on this manufacturing model. Earlier, traditional methods like the waterfall approach were used which were time-consuming and expensive. To deal with this, the Agile manifesto was created.
Life Cycle Comprises of seven principles that offer more value to the working process Comprises of six phases that offer more value to the working software
Dynamic Changes Not very flexible for dynamic changes or updates Easy and flexible for dynamic changes or updates
Delivery It delivers in terms of value It delivers in terms of the product
Application in Model Applies working product in its model Applies heuristics in its model
Inbuilt Services Can be utilized to create a tiny number of products Can be utilized to create any type of product development
Flexibility Helps in the inspection and adaptation of products Offers great flexibility in the usage of frameworks
Approach Follows a top-down approach viewing the entire process as a whole Follows a bottom-up approach, breaking work into the smallest iterations
Team Involvement Lean takes into consideration the entire team or organization Agile considers specified team roles and processes
Type of Projects Lean is fit for projects that are repeatable by nature Agile is fit for projects that new or innovative
Focus Area Enhancing processes for better customer value with quality being a parameter Assisting in creating better products via small and regular iterations
Speed and Time-To-Market The main thing is to deliver fast through iteration and speed, eliminating redundancy and overplanning The focus is on creating small units for the betterment of processes along with improved time-to-market
Value Value is offered by faster product delivery and without any wastage of time or resources Value is offered as a changing term with continuous client feedback to improvise the product
Team Models Work cells, segregating variability, relationship service cells Self-managing teams, cross-functional teams, specialist pools
Working Methods Lean management practices, continual enhancement, self-monitoring automation Scrum, extreme programming method, Sprints
Key Objective The key objective of Lean is to remove all unwanted factors that don’t add value to the project development The key objective of Agile is to create a product that fulfills the requirements of end-users and stakeholders

Lean vs Agile: When to Use What or Use Both Together?

With such similarities and differences between Lean vs Agile, it is tough to take a call on whether to use either or both. Many say both are exclusive of each other based on different fundamentals. But that is not the case. Both methodologies have been effectively offering similar outputs and hence, can work together taking the best of both.

As we compare Agile vs Lean, there are a growing number of organizations who are willing to implement both, based on their needs. While Lean attempts to enhance the process of delivering the product, Agile attempts to enhance the product itself. Both are equally important. Hence, opting for both can turn out much more effective in project execution.

Lean vs Agile: Which One to Choose

While we compare the two project execution models – Lean vs Agile, based on different parameters like organizational objectives, project timelines, skills of team members, project management objectives, etc., we see that it may turn out beneficial to use the best of both.

Organizations just need to be sure while comparing Agile versus Lean, about what their focus is – enhancing the process (Lean is better) or enhancing the product (Agile is better). And if the answer is both, then choosing both, Lean and Agile, could be an ideal choice.

Finally, choosing either is going to yield good results, provided it is implemented keeping in mind its principles and working process!


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