Lean and agile are popular project management methodologies that originated in the software development and manufacturing industries. In practice, these methodologies help project teams deliver faster, better-quality products and services to their clientele.
Although these approaches can be used in tandem (often referred to as the Lean-Agile approach) to achieve continuous improvement, most organizations default to using either one approach or the other.
In this article, we will discuss what the lean and agile methodologies are, the benefits of each methodology, their differences, and other important information on these commonly used project management methodologies.
Lean methodology is a business philosophy that enables project managers to continuously improve their business processes while eliminating waste.
Lean methodology encompasses both lean thinking and lean practices. Lean thinking is a thought process that focuses on creating value with fewer resources and less waste. Lean practice, often referred to as lean management, consists of continuous experimentation with the goal of achieving perfection with zero waste.
In the lean methodology, there are five key principles:
- Identify value
- Create a value stream map
- Develop a continuous workflow
- Create a pull system
- Enable continuous improvement
In short, the lean methodology focuses on how project team’s work, encouraging organizations to eliminate waste, or anything else that does not contribute value to the client. In this methodology, production is based on demand rather than supply.
Agile methodology is a management approach that divides a project into small phases to make it easier to manage during the development process. In agile project management, project teams use multiple short cycles called sprints to improve the speed, quality, and flexibility of a project.
This methodology relies heavily on consistent stakeholder collaboration and continuous improvement during each phase of a project’s life cycle to optimize the development process.
As mentioned in the agile manifesto, there are four core values of the agile methodology that differ from other project management methodologies. Agile methods focus on:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working on software over comprehensive documentation.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
These core values coupled with the 12 principles of agile project management help support agile teams over the project life cycle by mandating an iterative development process that embraces change and encourages stakeholder collaboration.
Benefits of lean methodology
The hallmark of a successful business is a company’s ability to bring value to their customers and continuously improve upon company workflows. Lean methodology enables businesses to transform the way the company operates, increasing customer satisfaction over time.
Here are some benefits that the lean methodology can provide to growing businesses:
Improving customer relations. In lean methodology, the client’s viewpoint is at the forefront of all business decisions. Lean management is always concerned with whether employee workflows prioritize bringing value to the customer and encourages the reduction or stoppage of all waste activities that do not bring value to clients. This customer-focused approach aids customer service efforts, decreasing the number of dissatisfied customers, and increasing customer retention rates.
Increasing workflow efficiency. The primary focus of the lean methodology is to continuously improve company workflows. For instance, once a company identifies what its customers value, project teams can create a value stream map that tracks each phase of the product throughout a project life cycle. By organizing their processes visually, project teams can eliminate unnecessary steps in operational workflows that do not contribute value, optimizing workflow efficiency.
Saving revenue. No matter what industry an organization operates within, ultimately the bottom line matters most. After all, it’s nearly impossible for a company to stay afloat if they aren’t turning a profit. In lean methodology, waste activities such as overproduction, excess processing, neglect of human talent, etc., must be eliminated whenever possible. This enables companies to strategically save revenue otherwise spent on nonprofitable activities.
Increasing team engagement. Employee engagement is the key to a successful business. If a company’s workplace culture does not foster an environment where employees are engaged in their work, then operational workflows cannot be improved upon, hindering an organization’s growth potential. One of the main pillars of lean methodology is to respect people.
By involving employees in problem-solving activities, project managers can gain a frontline perspective that sheds light on issues that otherwise may have been overlooked. Involving project team members in process improvement makes them more likely to fully engage with their work, increasing overall team engagement and productivity.
Benefits of agile methodology
Today, businesses must be able to adapt to market conditions and meet the expectations of their customers if they intend to stay competitive. The agile methodology is one of the most popular approaches in project management due to its flexible structure and adaptability.
Here are a few of the benefits the agile methodology can provide:
Improving product quality. Since agile methodology operates in an iterative manner, every sprint will uncover errors and obstacles that must be addressed. This methodology also includes the client in the development process, enabling them to request changes based on their desired outcome. This iterative approach encourages companies to focus on quality control, ultimately leading them to develop higher quality products that better meet customer needs and desires.
Ensuring customer satisfaction. As previously mentioned, the agile methodology includes the client in the development of the product/service. By keeping the customer involved, companies can ensure that the final product/service is delivered to the client according to their expectations, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and retention rates.
Aiding continuous improvement. One of the twelve core principles of the Agile manifesto is to work on self-reflection and strive for continuous improvement. Since this methodology works in iterations, each sprint should turn out better than the last one, aiding continuous improvement as the project lifecycle moves forward. These sprints foster a workplace culture where teams are encouraged to collaborate to solve problems and share past project experiences, which also aids continuous improvement efforts.
Enhancing team morale. Agile teams are often self-managing, meaning they have more authority over their own decision making than traditional teams. This fosters a sense of pride within project teams, making team members more likely to support each other when faced with challenges. Teams that adhere to agile principles frequently collaborate to discuss challenges and learn new project management techniques, increasing team morale.
3 main differences between lean methodology and agile methodology
Although there are a few similarities between agile and lean methodologies, such as their dedication to continuous improvement and focus on employee collaboration, they do differ greatly in their areas of focus, approaches, project timelines, and guiding principles.
Here are the main differences between lean and agile methodologies:
Area of focus. The main difference between lean and agile is their areas of focus. Agile methodology focuses on the optimization of the product/service development process. The agile process aims to make project life cycles more flexible, transparent, and adaptable.
On the other hand, lean methodology focuses on the optimization of process flow and quality. Lean management seeks to eliminate waste and maximize the value for their clientele.
Approach. The agile approach uses a flexible, yet specific development process, whereas the lean approach is not necessarily as structured. Agile projects go through iterative development cycles, referred to as sprints, actively involving the customer in each part of the development process to ensure customer satisfaction is prioritized.
Like the agile approach, the lean approach introduces small incremental changes within operational processes to increase efficiency. Unlike agile projects, the lean approach is not particularly concerned with shortening the time it takes to complete a development cycle. Instead, the lean approach focuses on increasing overall workflow efficiency.
Project timelines. For agile project teams, each product/service development cycle is quite short. Each sprint typically lasts no more than two to four weeks. This enables agile teams to further develop the deliverable with each iteration. Lean project timelines are not as strict as agile project timelines. Although lean project timelines do not adhere to a specific timeframe, lean project teams do prioritize the optimization of process flow, which can result in a shortened project timeline.
How to create a lean diagram in MindManager
One of the main focuses of the lean project management methodology is to make continuous improvements to workflows to optimize overall business operations. Lean diagrams can help project teams visualize various aspects of key operational processes to identify and eliminate waste activities.
MindManager is a visual management tool, otherwise known as mind mapping software, that helps organizations facilitate decision-making and problem-solving activities. This solution provides organizations with the opportunity to experiment with various layouts and templates to find what visualization technique works best for their workforce.
Lean project teams can utilize MindManager’s visualization tools to create lean diagrams, such as a lean canvas, value stream maps, PDCA cycles, spaghetti diagrams, and more to help visualize their project plans and guide their projects to fruition.
How to create an agile diagram in MindManager
Due to the nature of agile principles, the agile methodology is best applied with the help of project management tools. Agile visual tools, referred to as agile diagrams, provide teams with structure and efficiency when carrying out project life cycles.
With MindManager, agile teams gain the ability to create diagrams such as virtual agile planning boards, Kanban boards, and scrum boards.
MindManager’s visualization tools aid agile project teams by helping them visualize each phase of the development workflow, enabling team members and management to make continuous improvements to their company’s products or services, or business processes.
Maximize the potential of lean and agile methodologies with MindManager
Lean and agile methodologies rely heavily on visualization tools to prioritize and manage key workflows. With good workflow visualization tools, any company, no matter the industry, will be able to better understand operational processes, identify bottlenecks, continuously improve and adapt key workflows, and ultimately provide their customers with excellent products/services.
MindManager offers a variety of customizable templates to support project teams as they work through key processes using lean and agile methodologies. MindManager enables users to build their own diagrams from scratch so that project teams can create a workflow improvement plan that meets their specific needs.
In addition to simplifying the workflow visualization process, MindManager also enables project teams to co-edit workflow diagrams in real-time, enhancing collaboration and productivity.