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Similarities & Differences between Agile and Lean

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A lot has been spoken about Agile in the last few months. It’s time to discuss how Agile relates to (or) differs from another commonly used term called “Lean”.

Similarities & Differences

The term “Lean Manufacturing” was developed in Japan in the ‘50s and ‘60s by an engineer named Taiichi Ohno. Simply put, Lean is a way to do more and more with less and less – be it less manpower, equipment, time, space, etc. On the face of it the term Lean may sound synonymous with Agile. The underlying concepts of these two are actually quite complementary in nature. Both talk about methods such as Scrum, XP, Kanban. While the Lean methodology says that every process should be continuously inspected and adapted for continual improvement (Kaizen), the Agile framework also provides for regular checks of the results and of the working method in order to come up with potential improvements. Another important similarity is that both Agile & Lean focus more on the workers who perform the task rather than the tools they use. Also, nothing is more important than the final result. Both strive for customer satisfaction as their ultimate goal.

Conceptually speaking, the basic difference between the two is that Lean is a “methodology” whereas Agile is more of a mindsetor an approach”. In a more generic sense, there are other differences between the two like:

Agile deals with optimization of a development process whereas Lean deals with optimization of a production process. The essence of this difference lies in the fact that in a development process, new changes are welcome since they lead to improvement of the final product. But, in production, variation and rework are expensive because the end product has already been predefined at the beginning. This means that while Lean is all about minimizing costs through continuous improvement (Kaizen principle) & elimination of waste in the chain, Agile is focused on constantly responding to changing customer demands in a timely manner through a flexible production design.

Owing to the previous point, it is no surprise that the Lean principles were born in the industrial sector with the intention to make production systems more efficient and Agile was given rise to in a creative software development environment.

Lean methodology often aims to improve the processes in all organizations whereas Agile is applied within a team, often composed of no more than a dozen people.


It is difficult to conclude which of the two principles is better. It depends on the type of organization and type of project that is to be developed. Both, however, remain interconnected in the sense that they focus entirely on customer satisfaction by giving them the product they want in the most efficient way possible. It’s just that the means to achieve customer satisfaction is different for both ideologies.


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