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Project managers are always working on finding the best ways to create their products or help with software development. Most of the time, this can be seen as a battle between efficiency and productivity. The main goal is to find the golden balance between the two – delivering amazing products in the shortest time possible.

The way to achieve this will depend on the team members you are working with. There is a huge variety of methodologies at work, but only two which are most often competing for the favorite spot. The first is called the lean methodology. The other is an agile methodology.

Deciding on the methodology to pick can be tough. Both of these are amazingly useful in their own specific ways. Because of this, one of the most common discussions is about the differences between the two. However, what makes the lines even more blurred are the similarities between them. Sometimes, this goes to the point where companies use one name for the other, or switch between the two often.

This is why, today, we take a look at similarities between agile and lean development methodology. With this article, we hope to bring both ideas of lean and agile management closer to your startup and help the product owner decide which one will fit your team members better.

Understand both lean and agile methodologies

In order to understand what each methodology represents, we will need to dive a little into the history of both. Examining the differences between them will help bring their similarities to the forefront.

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The origins of lean principles

The roots of lean manufacturing—similar to the waterfall method—can be found in the 1950s and Toyota car factories in Japan. They noticed an excess of resources which was clogging down their workflow. So, they set out to reduce inventory costs and this way improve the speed of the whole process. This is how the Toyota Production System was born.

Toyota used visual indicators for their inventory needs. They gained precise information about when they needed each item in the workflow and reduced overall waste. Through lean thinking, they were able to optimize the entire operations.

The origins of agile principles

Agile started out later, in the 80s and the 90s, and was developed with computer programmers. Before the methodology, their projects used to take a lot of time – sometimes years – to finish. However, the programming and computer industry is everchanging – and the same applied to the second half of the twentieth century. What this means is that once programmers were able to release the product, there was a high chance that it was already out of date. And so, they needed a new approach to do their work.

The main problem was that the cost of the whole process was never able to justify the lack of longevity of the final product. However, while the industry changed, there were customer needs for new products – and the lack of skilled workers. And thus, the costs kept climbing instead of declining.

So, the main focus of agile methodology became time. The main goal of your agile teams is to put continuous attention on the delivery of the product – first, do it fast and then keep updating it after getting feedback from your clients.

It took some years to shape the methodology – and thus, the Agile Manifesto was written in 2001. It outlines the main goals as well as gives 12 principles which guide the methodology. And, same as lean methodology, it started in one niche, and then was quickly adopted by other businesses.

Kanban vs. scrum – an example of lean-agile differences

One of the best examples of using these two project management methodologies is through comparing kanban and scrum. These are two diverse software development processes that can offer a clear picture of both lean and agile methodology and how you can differentiate between the two.

First, there is scrum – an agile software development framework that your development team can use for complex products. Just like through history – its main emphasis is on software development, but people have been using it in other fields as well. It is perfect for a smaller development team – one to ten people.

The main point is to break up your product development into goals (called project backlog) which then you can complete through continuous improvement. These short-timed iterations are called sprints and usually take around two weeks. At the end of each one, you will hold a meeting to review your sprint and your agile development progress.

On the other hand, Kanban is a development method made to support your product development process as a whole. It utilizes a kanban board to help you highlight problems and solve them. It does so by measuring the lifecycle and lead time of both the complete process and your value stream (which is made up of the process’s parts).

Lean-agile methodologies both focus on customer value

As it often is (and should be) in the business world, the customer or client was the main reason for both methodologies. Yes, there was money and time involved as well, but both lean and agile methodologies were created to make clients happy with the product, as well as the process easier for the team members.

Notice that both serve to offer a better and faster service. The core way in which they achieve their goals is what makes them stand out from each other.

If you are using lean methodology, then you want technical excellence for the client. You also want to deliver it in the shortest time possible. The agile methodology doesn’t differ from this when looking at the time – fast delivery is at the forefront.

However, you do not need a perfect product. Instead, you can continue working on it and updating it with the client’s feedback.

Project management speed is the target for both lean and agile methodologies

As you might have noticed, both methodologies serve to boost your efficiency – or the speed by which you will develop a product. This is one of the biggest efforts of both methodologies. However, what you have to change to achieve efficiency differs between the two.

On the one hand, you will use the lean methodology to eliminate anything that doesn’t add value to your work. This means that you will cut down on any time-wasting meetings as well as unnecessary bureaucracy. You will also want to stop working on the things you “might need” in the future. Finally, you will want to stray away from the inefficient ways of working – like multitasking.

Meanwhile, agile methodology lets you pick and choose the practices and tasks that work best for you. The main thing is that you will not be stuck with the choices you make. Instead, you will want to keep changing them if they do not work (thus, the name agile). What this means is that you can change the workflow piece by piece, where the huge difference between the two lies.

If you are using lean methodology, then you are emphasizing and focusing on your workflow as a whole. It requires you to take a step back and look at it from a top-level or an overview. This offers you better control of the whole process, as well as the ability to cut down on anything that’s excess.

To illustrate, you will not need to have your workers putting in the hours in random software development so that they can be at 100% once you need them. Instead, what you need to do is believe that they will be ready and do their best when the time for that comes. For example, your programmers do not need to create a tool that you might not even use.

Instead, let them explore and develop their skills. This way, you put the spotlight on the high-quality of your product. By doing so, you will not have to go back and update the product once you deliver it to your clients.

This is unlike the agile project management, which requires constant updates.

Trust in your teammates is important in both lean-agile methodologies

As you can see, you will need to rethink the way in which you manage your team when picking between the two methodologies.

However, what’s important to note is that both of them have your team closely involved in the whole workflow. After all, teamwork is core to all businesses. Without it, both the efficiency and the productivity will suffer major losses.

With the lean methodology, people can learn from one another. Through collaboration, you reach the best, most efficient solutions and cut down on the waste.

Meanwhile, the next three statements from the Agile Manifesto we mentioned promote collaboration and speak for themselves:

  • “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
  • “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.”
  • “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”

Note that the third sentence is one of the 12 agile practices of the Agile Manifesto. A conclusion you might draw is that agile methodology doesn’t even care about the tools or the process in a way that lean methodology does. Instead, this methodology focuses on the people in the process. It also encourages you to work closely with your clients, too. Their input can do wonders and give you a much better product, so make time to listen to it.

Learn more about agile and key agile principles by taking one of these agile certifications.


To conclude, there might be just as many similarities between agile and lean software development methodology, as there are differences. Although their origins are different, they still have the same focus – customer satisfaction.

You will also want to pay attention to your workflow and ways in which you can optimize it. Delivery speed is important in both – but it is up to you and your team to figure out which one will work better for you. It might take some exploration and experimenting, but once you settle down on a methodology, your business will be on the road to success in no time!

Ben Aston
By Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of I've been in the industry for more than 20 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony. I'm a Certified Scrum Master, PRINCE2 Practitioner and productivity nut!