Tech Insights

Agile vs. Lean: Key Differences and Similarities

Emmanuel Egeonu
- 3 min. to read

Are you unsure whether to use Agile vs Lean when developing your software? We’ve got you covered!

If you’ve done your homework on contemporary project management techniques, you’ve probably come across terms like Lean and Agile often!

While these 2 methods are frequently utilized together, they are 2 different project management techniques.

What is the difference between Lean and Agile or their similarities? How to know when to use one or the other?

Agile vs Lean: A Quick History

1. Agile

Traditional methods like the Waterfall method were used to manage software development projects by computer programmers in the 1980s. However, this method was time-consuming and expensive. 

With Waterfall, a product’s development progress might take months or even years. As a result, when the program or product is released, it is already outdated with current needs.

To address this, the Agile Manifesto was created. The Agile approach is based on the 4 core values and 12 guiding principles focused on adaptability.

Agile teams are able to structure and adapt better  to change by involving stakeholders from the start. This way, there’s improved software planning, development, and rollout.

2. Lean

In the 1970s, Taiichi Ohno created a method called the Toyota Production System (TPS). The aim was to decrease inventory prices and enhance supply chain efficiency by eliminating any kind of waste.

The idea of the TPS system evolved from the inventory management method used by supermarkets, which utilized visual signals to communicate inventory requirements almost immediately. This reduced waste and improved the entire manufacturing process.

This method was subsequently used to develop Lean manufacturing ideas. That said, let’s have a closer look at what the Lean and Agile methodologies are.

What is Agile Methodology?

The Agile software development method is a way to create projects using an iterative technique.

Agile project management involves dividing a large development cycle project into shorter ones known as sprints. The typical sprint lasts 2-4 weeks.

Consider this example:

Let’s assume you’re developing a robot.

In a classic project management approach like Waterfall, you might spend months preparing and developing the machine before finally putting it in operation.

This may result in a situation where the AI feature, which you thought was innovative, turns out to be ineffective. Say what the client wanted was, for example, a robot with perfect linguistic control but you created one with great mathematical capabilities.

This could have been avoided with the Agile approach.


New collaborative Agile developments, like the RAD model, prioritize speed and collaboration. Now, customers are actively involved. At the end of each sprint, they provide comments and the appropriate modifications are made in the following cycle.

To create a product that meets your clients’ demands perfectly, you must embrace continuous improvement.

What is the Lean Methodology?

The 7 principles of Lean project management are:

  • Eliminate waste
  • Create knowledge
  • Defer commitment
  • Build quality in
  • Deliver fast
  • Optimize the whole
  • Respect people

Lean methodology aims to  improve the manufacturing process by eliminating waste. It also endeavors to maximize client value while lowering risk.

So what exactly does “eliminating or reducing waste” imply?

The term “waste elimination” refers to eliminating everything that does not contribute to the process’s worth.

This could be anything from meetings to inefficient methods to unnecessary documentation.

Agile vs Lean Comparison Table

Aspect of Comparison AgileLean
Focus of the methodolodyAgile project management focuses on continuous improvement.Lean project management focuses on the elimination of waste.
Customer ValueAgile methodology prioritizes customer value provision via continuous improvement.Lean methodology prioritizes customer value provision via giving attention to product quality.
Methods for Fast DeliveryAgile teams work in short cycles to complete projects faster.Lean teams ensure the elimination of unnecessary wasteful factors to quicken product delivery.
Continuous ImprovementThe Agile methodology seeks to continuously improve the project by taking into consideration end-user and stakeholder feedback at every cycle.The Lean methodology seeks to continuously improve the project by eliminating waste at every stage for a better use of resources.
End GoalThe goal of the Agile methodology is to produce a product that satisfies the end-user or stakeholder requirements.The goal of the Lean methodology is to eliminate all factors that do not add value to the development of the product.

6 Major Differences Between Lean Vs Agile

1. Differences in Methodology

The most significant difference between Agile methodologies and Lean thinking is that the latter focuses on continuous improvement, not the elimination of waste as the former.

A. Agile Methodology  

The development process of a project is optimized using the Agile method. It seeks to make the development procedure adaptable, transparent, and flexible.


Agile development places a premium on continuous improvement and client satisfaction.

An Agile approach entails an iterative development process (sprints) and the active involvement of the client from start to conclusion by the Agile team.

B. Lean Methodology 

Optimizing the production process is at the heart of Lean thinking. It’s all about reducing risk and eliminating waste (lean production).

In fact, one of the first principles of Lean is to “eliminate waste.”

As you get rid of everything that doesn’t help the project reach its ultimate goal, the production process automatically shrinks and improves efficiency. This is a great method to save time and money in the long run.

2. Differences in the Approach 

Both Lean and Agile development approaches are excellent, but they approach software creation slightly differently:

A. Agile Approach 

A project is built in short iterative and incremental cycles or sprints in an Agile setting.

The iterative and incremental development is a method of breaking down a project into phases, with each phase consisting of planning, implementation, testing, and evaluation. This is done one step at a time until you reach your desired result.

B. Lean Approach 

The Lean approach seeks to improve efficiency by making minor, continuous changes throughout the manufacturing process. This can lead to shorter development cycles, but it is not the primary goal of Lean.

3. Differences in Project Timelines

While both Lean and Agile approaches aim to get the product out as quickly as possible, their time frames differ:

A. Agile Project Timeline  

Agile teams work in short cycles to complete projects more quickly. Cycles and sprints typically last for 2-4 weeks each.

B. Lean Project Timeline 

By optimizing process flow, Lean teams reduce the length of their project schedule. They typically restrict their work in processes, which cuts the overall project duration. But unlike Agile, there is no set deadline.

4. Differences in the Team

There are several differences between the Lean and Agile methodologies when it comes to team structures:

A. Agile Team  

An Agile team is made up of a small group of self-organized, cross-functional people.

What does that imply?

  • Self-organized: Teams determine how to accomplish the task on their own.
  • Cross-functional: Collaborators have diverse responsibilities and skills , but they all strive for the same objective. 

A team may be made up of a product manager, a Scrum Master or Agile coach, a product owner, business analyst, and so on.

B. Lean Team 

In the Lean methodology, you create numerous Lean teams made up of personnel from various relevant departments.

Each group is led by a team leader who oversees the team and individual projects. While your Lean team members should be capable, they don’t always have to be self-managed and cross-functional.

5. Differences in the Overall Goal 

Agile Lean development approaches aim to achieve varying objectives:

A. Agile Goal  

The goal in Agile development is to create something that fulfills the end-user or stakeholder needs.

B. Lean Goal 

The goal in Lean development is to eliminate any process that does not contribute valueably to the creation of the product.

6. Differences in the Area of Focus

Agile Lean differs from each other with regards to focus in the following ways:

A. Agile Area of Focus  

Agile development is all about the project’s scope and client value.

A software product’s scope is defined by its features and capabilities in Agile software development. At the end of each sprint, you prioritize customer value and make adjustments in the following cycle.

B. Lean Area of Focus 

Lean software development, on the other hand, is all about improving process efficiency and quality.

Process improvement and quality (no defects is the focus) are emphasized. This is typically achieved through a process called value stream mapping.

What is value stream mapping?

A process that visualizes a series of events in between product development and delivery to the client is known as a value stream.

Agile vs Lean: What Are the Similarities?

Why are the agile and lean methodologies so frequently linked?

It’s because both approaches share values such as adaptability, which makes them similar.

Here are a few more ties between Lean and Agile:

  • Continuous Improvement: Both methodologies concentrate on inspecting the current working method for potential positive modifications.
  • Customer Value Prioritization: Both Agile and Lean focus on providing more value to the customer through their proactive engagement of consumer comments or their attention to quality.
  • Efficient Timelines: The Agile approach delivers items in rapid version updates, whereas Lean project management aims for the fewest number of phases feasible. Both of these strategies are focused on keeping the process running smoothly.
  • The Continuous Flow of Results: The Agile method continually provides value at every stage while Lean keeps delivering results without waste elimination through continuous reduction of waste.

Looking for an Agile or Lean Software Development Project Manager?

Project management methodologies like Agile or Lean are designed to streamline the development process by making it more attainable and understandable. With the aid of the Agile methodology, for example, you can inject stakeholder and end-user feedback into your development process for an outcome that satisfies everyone. 

Lean project management, on the other hand, enables you to make the best use of your resources by eliminating waste for a better quality product. 

However, you can have the perfect methodology, but it’s all in vain without the right team. If you’re searching to hire a qualified developer for your Agile or Lean projects, we got you covered. Our global headhunting team can help you hire and evaluate remote developers in less than two weeks. Plus, we also help you with all the HR hassle, so you have nothing to worry about. Contact us, and let us help you scale your team.

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