Hello and welcome to our expert guide on Lean vs Agile Project Management methodology.

By sticking with this article to the end, you will understand the similarities and differences between these two methodologies, their underlying concepts and know which one to apply to your project management role.

This article covers:

The concept of Lean Methodology
Principles of Agile Methodology
The differences and similarities between Lean and Agile
Best use cases for Agile vs Lean methodologies

I know you’re eager to get in the thick of it, so let’s jump right in without further delay.

What is Lean Methodology?

Perhaps, you’ve pondered on this question like many other project managers “is lean and agile the same?”

Now you can have the answer by reading on and mastering the Lean and Agile methodologies.

According to the Project Management Institute, Lean stands out as a business philosophy and corporate culture.

The definition of Lean methodology is the optimization of a company or an organization’s processes.

Lean is guided by a framework that prioritizes the management of waste and excess from the process and implementing changes where needed.

This methodology has roots in the Japanese automotive manufacturing giant Toyota.

The Toyota Production System was invented in the 1970s by Industrial Engineer Taiichi Ohno for the company to ramp up its production while maintaining its reputation for high-quality cars.

Today, lean manufacturing guidelines are implemented all over the world.

This Japanese philosophy also introduced various tools and ideas.

The spirit of Kaizen or continuous improvement refers to supporting one large production pipeline with incremental changes.

Lean thinking has also been adapted for the software industry.

Some companies also blend agile techniques to create lean-agile software development styles.

The Five Lean Principles

The Toyota Production System inspired Western project management professionals.

The Five Lean Principles were chronicled in the 1996 book Lean Thinking written by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones.

Since then, updates to the Lean principles have been added to this list.

Here we will tackle the original five, which are:

Identify the end-user value that is desired by the customer

This principle is basically for teams to identify what a customer is willing to pay for the product or service.

Map the value stream

Each step of the process must be well-documented, including the value-adding and non-value-adding actions.

These steps are arranged in a map that will reveal any wastes or redundancies.

Create flow

With a map in hand, the backflows, bottlenecks, and interruptions are identified.

The waste is categorized into overproduction, waiting, transportation, overprocessing, inventory, motion, and defects.

Establish pull

The Just-in-Time allows the exact customer value to be requested and delivered in a specified amount of time.

Seek perfection

The lean method lifecycle is never-ending – the process continues to be questioned and evaluated at every turn, all towards the goal of perfection.

Why use Lean methodology?

Since its start in the 1970s, it may seem like the lean development process is outdated.

However, seasoned project managers haven’t been able to turn their back on the lean-agile methodologies that inspired and informed so many frameworks today.

But before we compare both methods, let’s understand the Agile concept in a bit more detail.

What is Agile Methodology?

Agile methodology is a modern framework that blends principles of project management and product development.

According to Atlassian, one of the most well-known agile project management tool developers, it is a “simple approach to managing complexity.”

Because of this mindset, agile is often associated with the IT and programming profession, spawning different project management roles in the organization to keep true to these principles.

It’s rare to find software development teams that do not use this iterative development style.

What is Lean in Agile?

The developers of Agile were inspired by the Lean mindset and applied it to a more updated industry.

Later on, other frameworks developed in software development, like extreme programming and waterfall.

Combining both lean and agile methods (also known as “lean-agile”) is common practice among many professionals today.

The Agile manifesto

A 2001 meeting of a group of software development professionals in Utah resulted in what is now known today as the “Agile Manifesto.”

This software development methodology has since then made its way to various tech companies internationally.

Here are its main tenets:

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

These easy-to-understand yet straightforward phrases encapsulate the priorities and know-how of agile project managers.

The twelve Agile principles

To support the manifesto, the team also outlined the 12 agile principles that guide their approach to workflow management.

This set of principles state that agile teams must aspire to:

  • Achieve customer satisfaction through the early and continuous delivery of software
  • Welcome changing requirements even in the late stage of development
  • Frequently deliver fast working software
  • Collaborate with business stakeholders and technical groups through the entire process
  • Develop trust, support, and motivation between team members
  • Communicate effectively through face-to-face interaction
  • Monitor and measure progress through the working software
  • Pace software development in a sustainable manner
  • Concentrate on technical excellence and good design
  • Simplify and maximize work done and not done
  • Self-organize within teams
  • Gather, discuss, and implement feedback

What are the similarities between Lean and Agile?

Now that you have a grip of what each methodology offers project managers, let’s shift focus to their similarities.

And yes, they are similar in the ways we’re about to discuss now.

Promotion of Effective Teamwork

A team works as individuals side by side who make sure their tasks align with their colleagues.

But how do you ensure that what they are doing is correct and serving the entire process flow?

Both Lean and Agile strive to promote good team dynamics and communication.

Lean extends the continuous improvement to the people involved in their processes.

While Agile, on the other hand, strives to ensure a sustainable pace for the benefit of its team members.

Focus on the Customer or End-User

The end goal of these principles is to provide end-user or customer satisfaction.

After all, what use is efficient project management if the customers are not happy with the product or service you are offering?

Lean’s focus on identifying customer value in the final product and Agile’s customer satisfaction at the forefront of delivering software solutions both prioritize the end-user.

Importance on Simplicity

Keeping things smart and simple is vital to lean-agile project management.

Cutting out the unnecessary fat and fluff of the process is critical to the entire project’s success.

Lean’s desire to manage waste and Agile’s declaration that simplicity is essential is minimalism-minded approaches to the development cycle.

What Are The Differences Between Lean vs Agile?

Is Lean management Agile?

It cannot be because Lean is all about improving processes.

On the other hand, Agile is about managing workflows, which potentially require process improvement.

The priorities of project managers highlight the key differences that need to address at work.

Eliminating waste vs. welcome changing requirements

What is Lean mindset?

It is a more reserved version of process improvement.

What is essential is shaving off the minor inconveniences to shape up the whole process.

Agile is willing to take on changing requirements to ensure that the work in progress moves quickly in the right direction, guided by the principles.

Continuous improvement vs. iterative improvement

The big difference between Lean and Agile is how the methodology views what to do with the process and how you approach its improvement.

Lean focuses on following one solid, necessary process.

Changes that are introduced to the process are small, manageable, and easy to roll out.

Reinventing the wheel is not on the table when you need to be focused on pumping out quality products.

Agile focuses on iterating processes and providing value in increments.

Feedback from the team and users can potentially change the product or process.

Agile team members are expected to adapt to these changes quickly and easily.

Team size and scope

As mentioned in the examples of companies above, you will notice a stark difference in the teams, and timelines lean and agile methods take on.

Lean methods are usually used by massive operations, typically a production floor.

Lean teams can be huge, and their focus is on individual contributions to the entire process, not really on their specific role.

Small teams usually use agile methods.

A project manager or scrum master supports the team’s iterative progress.

In the scrum framework, sprints are events of a fixed length wherein agile teams work together to achieve a goal or accomplish specific tasks.

When to Use Agile vs Lean Methodology?

As a project manager, what methodology should you be educating yourself on to specialize in the workplace?

You need to be able to answer the question – should I use Lean or Agile?

To answer this correctly, it is more important to consider the setting where you want to apply the methodologies to know the one that suits the project.

As you may know by now, Lean methodology is best used by companies that create a product; these tend to be straightforward projects.

The lean method is best for a company’s production pipeline, where every individual focuses on their contribution to the bigger picture so that the process may succeed.

Lean is more associated with the manufacturing industry in typically large operations.

However, its principles can also be used in smaller teams and projects.

On the other hand, the Agile method is best used by companies working on a live product such as software with intensive customer service needs.

If some complexity is expected in the project, agile is always an excellent choice.

This method is best for agile teams like startups, usually composed of a few members and adaptable to change.


Project managers can learn a lot from the history and application of both Lean and Agile Methodologies.

However, it is important to remember that they have the common goal of delivering customer satisfaction and managing effective processes and teams.

You no longer have to wonder the difference between agile and lean now that the principles, goals, and cases have been laid out for you.



Project Management Institute

Toyota Motor Corporation

Lean Enterprise Institute


Manifesto for Agile Software Development


Go Lean Six Sigma

Scaled Agile

All Posts

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