Customer Experience

Lean vs Agile: What’s the difference?

Lean vs Agile

“Lean” and “agile” are two strategic approaches in the project management world domain. Although separate in their tactical application, each works to facilitate a similar end: produce sustainable results quickly.

For project managers, it helps to know the basic differences between the two approaches to understanding how one, or the other, best optimizes operational effectiveness in the context of the enterprise.

Lean definition

In an operational context, the term “lean” comes from Lean Manufacturing — a set of principles that works to achieve alignment, speed, and quality as they pertain to customer expectations.

To become lean, an enterprise strives to eliminate anything and everything that does not bring business value to the table. Working only on what is needed at the time — which requires cutting waste, useless meetings, excessive documentation, and time-consuming tasks — is the definitive premise behind “lean” operations.

The bottom line is to get rid of the superfluous items that needlessly take up a lot of time so that the team as a whole operates at peak efficiency. If you provide your staff with what they need to be effective, the work will go smoothly.

Agile definition

Being “agile” means committing to a set of principles that underlies many aspects of the Agile Manifesto:

  • Collaborating with possible clients to achieve sound results that meet set project goals
  • Establishing a communications plan that clearly defines procedures and toolsets
  • Creating a detailed plan that sets forth key objectives and response times to be achieved.

A process that is agile demands strong development that is maintainable in the long run. It requires exceptional attention to technical detail and know-how besides a design flow that makes achieving the desired goal as straightforward as possible.

Lean vs Agile — similarities

Both terms share similarities. However, for enterprises dedicated to being agile, expansion and development take center stage over the production process. The agile model lets businesses produce many small recurrent versions of a product, rather than focus on delivering a large production turnout all at once.

On the other hand…

The lean model, by contrast, anticipates that a business will be better off producing fewer products or items. This concept works more efficiently for companies that are better served by planning for materials and resources to be delivered at a future time.

Tying into this idea, the lean model states that an exacting inspection process is necessary for constant product improvement to take place. The same goes for the “agile” business looking to ensure high quality over time.

Both models focus on more effective employee collaboration. The idea is that people who are trusted to perform certain tasks are given greater importance than the instruments they use.

Whether they follow a lean or agile method, businesses across the board are more focused on the final result — bringing the most value to the customer.


One of the main differences between the lean vs agile model is that the lean model focuses on the optimization of the production process, whereas development comes first for the agile model.

In the lean production version, a reworking of the differences of a product is predefined so that the product is produced economically. The agile development process, however, focuses on enhancing the product through constant reworking and feedback.

Interestingly, the lean model was born out of the industrial production world, while the agile mindset grew from the creative software realm.

No haste, no waste

In both models, procedures must be applied, so that waste is eliminated — no haste no waste! The final product is the result of highly efficient manufacturing processes. And this occurs on different levels. For example, the lean model optimizes practices on the enterprise level while “agile” is more useful on the team level.

Lean or to agile? That is the question

Determining which method is best for you isn’t necessarily a clear-cut path. The unique nuances within an organization will likely decide. Using one, or the other, will depend on the application and be measured by how well they impact a common end result: providing customers with the best product available to meet their needs.

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