Agile VS. Lean: Right Methodology for Software Development


Agile Vs. Lean Methodology: Which One Should You Lean Towards More? agile vs lean

Agile methodology is the most commonly used software development methodology due to its high efficiency and exceptional results in terms of product delivery. Lean methodology is similar to agile, but its way of delivering value to customers and product owners differs from agile.

While agile and lean seem similar methods on a surface level, they have intricate differences in their execution. Today, we will compare agile vs. lean methodology and determine if they’re similar enough to co-exist in an organizational infrastructure.

Values & Principles of Agile

All the values of agile methodology are contained within an official documentation known as the Agile Manifesto, created in 2001 by 17 developers who wanted agile methodology to follow the finest practices of the software development world.

This manifesto contains four values and 12 principles. The four core values of the manifesto are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change by following a plan

The 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto are:

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for a shorter timescale.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to do the job.

6. Face-to-face conversation is The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within the development team.

7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

10. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the work not done — is essential.

11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on becoming more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Values & Principles of Lean

Lean methodology is rather simple as the founding father of the lean method, James Womack, defined five learning principles in his book that was published back in 1996:

1. Identify the value desired by the customer.

2. Map each product’s value stream and challenge all wasted steps currently necessary to provide it.

3. Create continuous flow through the remaining value-added steps (after removing wasted steps).

4. Establish pull between all steps where continuous flow is possible.

5. Seek perfection wherein the steps, time, and resources needed to serve customers are reduced.

The principles were later enhanced by The Poppendiecks, who mentioned seven major principles of the lean methodology in their 2001 book:

1. Eliminate Waste: If something (i.e., a meeting, task, or process) does not add value, find a way to cut it from your workflow.

2. Ensure Quality: Build quality checks into each stage of your development process through frequent testing, incremental development, constant feedback, and automation.

3. Create Knowledge: Maintain thorough documentation of team processes and past work to avoid losing learning. This can be done through formal documentation, wiki sites, knowledge-sharing sessions, and ongoing training.

4. Defer Commitment: Rather than making decisions about things months in advance, constantly gather information to make informed decisions as you go.

5. Deliver Fast: Get your product to market quickly by releasing your MVP and improving features and functionality based on customer feedback.

6. Respect People: Build healthy teams with open communication, working through obstacles as a team while constantly nurturing a supportive environment.

7. Optimize The Whole: Take a big-picture view to identify bottlenecks to keep team capacity in mind while assessing upcoming work and considering the downstream impact of today’s decision.

Agile vs. Lean: The Similarities

People often group agile and lean methodologies since both methodologies share similar values. To keep it simple, we’ll discuss five key similarities.

  • Continuous Improvement: Both methodologies focus on regularly inspecting the working method and application under development for possible improvements.
  • Customer Value Prioritization: Both methods prioritize delivering the most value to customers. Agile does so by involving customers through feedback, and Lean does it by delivering high-quality products.
  • Timeline Efficiency: Agile delivers a product through frequent version releases. As for lean, the entire development process contains as little amount of steps as possible. In both cases, delivery is faster, and the timeline is more efficient.

Lean Vs. Agile: The Final Comparison

1. Methodology

The core difference comes from the focus of both methodologies. Agile focuses on continuous improvement of both the development process and the product in development, while lean focuses on eradicating waste as much as possible.

Agile aims to obtain customer satisfaction by deploying updated project iterations quickly. Agile also encourages developers to involve all clients throughout the development cycle to improve the product based on user feedback.

Lean methodology is all about increasing productivity by reducing waste. When you eliminate unnecessary procedures, the software development life cycle automatically shrinks, and the entire team becomes more efficient in task execution.

2. Speed And Iteration Approach

Agile aims to continue delivering different iterations of the same product to the customers to improve the product based on customer feedback.

The lean approach believes in reducing steps in the development cycle to reduce development time. That way, the time-to-market is also faster. Lean also believes in getting the product into customers’ hands as fast as possible so the feedback-gathering process can begin.

3. Customer Prioritization

This is less of a difference and more of a similarity. Agile and lean focus on prioritizing customers’ requirements and fulfilling them to the best of the ability of the respective methodologies.

Agile focuses on customer satisfaction by delivering updated iterations of the same application through rapid development. Lean focuses on customer satisfaction by creating a development cycle with as little waste as possible to reduce product delivery time.

4. Disciplinary Project Management Practices

Most agile implementations are more structured compared to their lean counterparts. Agile relies on:

  • Defined Roles
  • Estimation Techniques
  • Structured Meetings
  • Systematic Reviews

A disciplined method helps agile software development teams make the right moves to adapt to ever-changing scenarios.

Successful lean implementation lies in integrating lean thinking into a business’s culture. For lean methodology, it’s less about upholding external rules and more about all the developers working in tandem while believing in lean principles for a smooth and efficient delivery cycle.

5. Project Timeline

Even when agile and lean rush towards pushing a functional product out the door as fast as possible, their timelines are vastly different.

Agile teams work in short cycles to complete certain tasks more quickly. Each of these short cycles is known as a “sprint,” lasting 2-4 weeks.

Lean reduces the overall project length by optimizing the entire process flow. Lean methodology restricts the amount of work in progress to focus on more pressing matters at hand. Ultimately, it cuts the project duration in half. But unlike agile, there’s no set deadline in lean projects.

6. Team Structure

Agile teams are made up of a small group of people who have two core qualities.

  • Cross-functional: Each team collaborator has a diverse set of skills and different responsibilities, but all their goals align.
  • Self-organized: Each team member decides on the right method to finish their assigned task quickly.

In the case of lean projects, you need to create multiple teams where all the team members follow the lean principles. Each group is then assigned a team leader who oversees all the operations and tasks assigned to their team.

While lean team members must be capable of carrying out all assigned objectives, they don’t necessarily have to be cross-functional or self-organizing.

7. True Goal

Agile development aims to create a final product that fulfills all the requirements of the end users or any other stakeholder’s needs.

Lean software development method focuses on eliminating any process that doesn’t contribute any value to the entire development process.

8. Focus of The Method

Agile is all about the project scope and client value. In agile, the scope of a software product is defined by its features and capabilities. At the end of each sprint, the goal of the entire development team is to prioritize customer requirements and make adjustments accordingly in the next sprint cycle.

The lean method focuses more on improving product quality by improving the development process. When developers emphasize process quality, the product tends to have fewer defects during the testing and publication phase.

Lean method has a process called value stream mapping that can visualize a series of events between product development and final delivery.

Decision Tree For Settling On The Right Methodology

Making the final decision comes with asking yourself many questions in different phases. But fear not; we’ve got the right questions covered that you’ll need.

Start by capturing the basics:

1. How critical is the process of choice to your business?

2. What is the scope of the effort?

3. Are there any kind of budget or resource constraints?

4. How long do you have to maintain constant delivery?

5. How many members does your team have?

Now, it’s time to consider the team size, the current client, and your organization. For the following questions, answer them all with a number between 1 and 10, 1 being very poor or ten being exceptionally high.

1. How competent is your current development team?

2. How skilled is your team at communication?

3. What is the depth of your understanding of current client issues?

4. How critical is user collaboration in your development?

5. How urgent is it for customers to find a solution?

6. How disciplined is the organizational culture?

7. Is the management done hierarchically?

8. How flexible is the organization in case of suddenly required changes?

Can Lean And Agile Exist Together?

While there is a common myth that agile and lean can’t exist together and are mutually exclusive, it’s just a myth. In reality, the goals of both agile and lean are so similar that it’s possible for both of these methodologies to co-exist within an organizational structure to offer maximum productivity and the best results.

However, the argument raises a fundamental misunderstanding of both methodologies. Agile and lean have been co-existing in practice within many organizations for quite a long time, and it has been proven time and time that both methods can combine to bring in great results.

To Wrap It Up

Agile and lean are highly competent software development methodologies that can help you maintain a competitive edge in the current software development industry.

But you should always remember that no matter whatever methodology you choose to maintain your project with, a good project always starts with a good team of highly qualified software development teams.

Impala Intech can help you with our specialized team of expert software developers anytime you need professional intervention in your project.


Do Lean and Agile Have Specific Practices for Continuous Improvement?

Both Lean and Agile encourage continuous improvement, with Lean using tools like Kaizen and Agile conducting retrospectives.

Are Lean Principles More Suitable for Manufacturing Industries Than Agile for Software?

Lean principles originated in manufacturing but have been successfully adapted to various industries. Agile is more closely associated with software but is adaptable, too.

Can Lean Be Used for One-Time Projects, or Is It More for Ongoing Processes?

Lean can be applied to one-time projects, but its strength lies in improving ongoing processes.

Do Agile Teams Use Lean Tools Like Kanban for Visualizing Work?

Agile teams often use Lean tools like Kanban boards to visualize work and improve workflow.

Is Lean or Agile Better for Fostering a Culture of Continuous Learning?

Both Lean and Agile foster continuous learning and improvement cultures, making them valuable in promoting a learning organization.