What are Lean and Agile?

Lean and Agile are two popular methods designed to help teams deliver faster and more sustainable results. Both approaches are flexible, end-user focused and can be used to support project management in a number of industries and settings. Due to having similar goals and principles, the two are often confused and there’s uncertainty among practitioners and teams on their differences. 

It is important to clearly understand Lean vs. Agile for teams to adopt the practices and principles of their selected methodology. This will help to set the solid foundations for a well established Agile or Lean approach. We’ve pulled together this article to help you understand the difference between the two, so let’s get started.

What is Lean Methodology?

Lean originates from “Lean Manufacturing” which was born in the manufacturing industry in Japan in the 1950s. Taiichi Ohno, who was working as an engineer, developed a system for producing Toyota automobiles. The system quickly became successful for Toyota and meant they were running their competitors out of business. 

In the years following, many variations of Lean methodology were developed and it’s not surprising that the concept is still evolving and popular in use today. 

The seven principles of Lean Methodology are:

1 – Eliminate Waste: This is the focus on eliminating all aspects of development that do not add value to the customer.  

2 – Build Quality: In trying to ensure quality, teams may create waste. For example, through excessive testing. Lean provides tools to eliminate this and instead build quality.

3 – Create Knowledge: This principle encourages teams to provide the infrastructure to properly document and retain valuable learning.

4 – Defer Commitment: Encourages teams to continuously gather information and only make decisions when backed up by data.

5 – Deliver Fast: Focus is on delivering fast and in increments to provide value to the customer.

6 – Respect People: This principle applies to how teams operate, including how they communicate, handle conflict, deal with change etc. Each should be approached in a respectful way to team members.

7 – Optimize The Whole: Ensuring quality of deliveries even when teams are under time pressure.

What is Agile Methodology?

Agile Methodology, on the other hand, originated in the 1980s and 1990s when computer programmers needed a solution to bring products to market more quickly. While the method was first coined decades ago, it wasn’t until 2001 that Agile Manifesto, the modern approach we use today was created. A group of software practitioners required a more structured, human approach to complex work and thus Agile was born. 

Agile has four core values, which are: 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. 
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. 
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

In addition, there are 12 defining principles that have guided the practice of Agile throughout recent decades.

Click here to read more about Agile Methodology and Frameworks and the Agile Values.

Lean vs. Agile: The Differences

Now we have outlined a brief history of each Lean and Agile, let’s take a look at the main differences between the two methodologies. 


The fundamental differences between the two are relating to their core philosophies. Both include several principles, however, the foundation of Lean vs. Agile methodologies is where the differences lie. For example, Lean is a minimalist approach which focuses on eliminating waste. Agile, on the other hand, is all about cross-collaboration between the various stakeholders. 


Below includes some of the key examples of this: 

  • Focus on Customer 

Both methodologies put emphasis on customer satisfaction. Agile sets out to achieve this by collaborating with end-users and encouraging constant feedback. Lean, on the other hand, puts customers first by focusing on improving processes such as eliminating waste. While Lean teams also aim to allow feedback from end-users, they put equal emphasis on streamlining their processes as a way of putting their customers first.

  • Speed and iteration 

Agile focuses on delivering software in increments as fast as possible which is similar to the Lean principle to “Deliver Fast”. However, the difference is that in Lean, teams increase the speed by managing the flow of work and limiting work-in-progress, whereas in Agile, teams also emphasise small batch sizes to deliver in short terations (often called sprints).

  • The role of discipline

Generally, Agile processes are more structured than Lean. They include clearly defined roles, structured meetings, estimation techniques and systematic reviews. While Lean does also rely on discipline, it looks different to Agile. Disciple in Lean is less about external expectations and processes and more about the organisation’s culture.


In summary, there are a lot of similarities between Lean vs. Agile so it’s easy to understand why there is often confusion between the two. The key differences are within the methodology of each, which is important to understand. Lean Methodology takes on a minimalist approach which focuses on people, while Agile Methodology highlights these values too but takes a more collaborative approach. 

It is important to understand the principles behind each to implement them successfully and help both Lean and Agile teams prosper.