The Relationship of Agile and Lean


I am doing a project where I  going through all the points in the Agile Practice Guide in a similar way that I went through the contents of the 6th Edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) last year.

In my last post, I discussed the point about agile approaches vs. agile methods, where the former focuses on the internal approach or framework, and the latter focuses on the external practice or method.   The Agile Practice Guide tends to settle on the term “approach”, but the term “method”, “practice”, “technique”, or “framework.”

This post takes the focus one step back, so to speak, and shows the relationship between lean and agile.   Agile comes from the world of software development and lean comes originally from the world of manufacturing.   If you look at Figure 2-4 on p. 11 of the Agile Practice Guide, you will see that the Agile Alliance actually puts lean as a wider category that encompasses both the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto and methods such as Kanban.

Why?  Because they share lean concepts such as:

  • focus on value
  • small batch sizes
  • elimination of waste (i.e., that which does not add value)

The Agile Alliance says there are two strategies for fulling the agile values and principles outlined on pp. 8-9 of the Agile Practice Guide.

1. Adopt a Formal Agile Approach

This is an approach intentionally designed and proven to achieve desired results.   Take time to learn and understand the agile approach before changing or tailoring it.   Premature and haphazard tailoring can minimize the effects of the approach and thus limit benefits.

2. Achieve Progress on a Core Value or Principle

Implement gradual changes to project practices in a manner that fits the project context to achieve progress on a core value or principle.  Use timeboxes to create features, or specific techniques to refine features in an iterative manner.   For example, divide one large project into several releases.   The end goal need to be agile for its own sake, but rather to deliver a continuous flow of value to customers and achieve better business outcomes.

So you can head towards agile gradually or by adopting a more formal approach, but it needs to be done in a mindful way in any case.

The Kanban method is one which is used in manufacturing and software environments and therefore it merits a special discussion about its relationship to lean thinking.  Therefore it merits a separate post, which will come next.

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