Agile and Lean, is it really different?

Agile principles are increasingly used in IT functions. Convinced of the value of the approach, IT invites its business partners, the operational sectors, to work in Agile mode. The approach of excellence in operations is often known as “Lean.”

Many are concerned about the addition of a new methodology. This is not the case. In this article, I explain these two concepts and their similarities.

Agile and Lean are two philosophies that guide work. I have identified six success keys that they share.

Value according to customer

In both cases, the goal is to create value for the customer. It is at the heart of both philosophies. The customer has a need, he wants a product, a service or software that meets his need. The organization must therefore meet this need. The goal is not to make the best product or software, but to make the one the customer needs.

It may sound obvious to you, but in real life we are often far from this objective. Many professionals think they know what to do. They are not interested in the customer and do not necessarily listen to them. I’ve already written about how to put the client at the heart of your work.

Dedicated and cross-functional teams

All organizations face “silos” issues. I think it’s human that you can’t work with 150 persons. Each one favours a group of about ten to twenty persons. In an organisation by trade, strong links are created in every trade. Employees then defend their profession or business sector more than the customer or the product.

Group of people taking part in a tug-of-war.

In Agile or Lean mode, teams, made of permanent or temporary workers, work together and are organised per product. Employees then create a strong bond around this product. The silos fall in favour of the product.

Of course, nothing is perfect. And you can then have “competition” between the different teams, around their respective products.

Those who do are those who know

Lean and Agile managers must learn to trust, let go and give decision-making power. This is the opposite of Taylorism, in which experts tell employees how to work.

In Lean as in Agile, employees know how to do things. First of all, you have to tell them where to go, what to achieve. Then the teams organize themselves to achieve the result. Intrinsic motivation increases individual and overall performance.

Field workers are often invited to participate, along with the experts. Their voice counts as much, if not more, because they know how it works in reality.

A pulled flow

In Agile mode, the team frequently delivers customer-prioritized features. In Lean mode, the team delivers products requested by the customer, just in time. We are in a pull flow: it is the customer who asks for the production. He chooses the product, time and quality.

In traditional organizations, flow is pushed: the organisation provides what it has decided. The customer chooses from what is available. He has no say on prioritization of production.

Continuous improvements

By proceeding by trial and error, with small steps, Lean and Agile are constantly looking to improve their product, service or software. In software development, it is the search for Simplicity. For production it is the stability of the process. In both cases, we try a minor adjustment, if it works, we continue, otherwise, we try in another direction.

Error is allowed and even favoured, as it is a source of learning. The work environment encourages experimentation and gives space to test new things.

Questioning how we do things

Group of 3 people looking at tablets.

Finally, Agile and Lean never rest on their successes. At each end of the cycle, they question themselves and ask how the team could have done better. Whether in the phase “check-act” of the PDCA cycle, or the Scrum retrospective, the teams decide which methods or behaviours change to be even more performing.

Perfection does not exist, but both approaches improve both the product and the way they do the work.

Agile, Lean, Scrum and Six Sigma

What about the Six Sigma? It is a methodology, just like the Scrum in Agile, which accurately describes the steps and organisation to achieve specific goals.

Depending on the situation and objectives, the Six Sigma, Kaizen, Scrum or Design Thinking methodology will be used. When you master them, you can use the best of each methodology with your own approach.

To remember

The most important thing is to understand the concepts and why the methodology proposes certain things. Then you’ll apply what you need in your context.

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