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Does Lean Need Agile?

I like to be challenged in my beliefs. For this reason, I am running an article that was submitted to me by Stephen Jannise of SoftwareAdvice.com.

Stephen’s premise is that Lean is no longer enough to thrive in today’s competitive, flexible market. He believes that agile management is the next step beyond Lean.

Now, I agree with all of what Stephen says a company needs to do. My question, though, is whether what he describes is fundamentally different from a Lean approach.

So, please read his article, and then share your comments about whether you think there is a meaningful distinction between Lean and agile, and if so, what it is.

Why Lean Needs Agile
By Stephen Jannise of SoftwareAdvice.com

We all know the basic principles of lean: reduce waste, maintain quality, and accelerate productivity. The difficulty lies in remaining true to those principles in an increasingly uncertain economy. It’s one thing to cut back on unnecessary effort and motivate positive activity when you’re going about business as usual, but it’s another thing entirely to achieve those goals when you’re dealing with a business environment that demands flexibility.

These days, one can never be certain that tomorrow’s business will be conducted in the same way that today’s was. Companies are failing the world over, which means that business partnerships are crumbling on a daily basis, forcing the survivors to regroup and pool their efforts in a different way. For this reason, we have to stop thinking about agile management as an option that can be tacked onto lean when needed and start thinking about it as an absolute necessity.

The ability to remain agile and flexible will eventually separate the companies that prosper from those that cannot compete. Even those companies that have become comfortably and consistently successful by following routines and leaving little room for innovation or deviation will one day discover that their market has changed without them. Customers now expect customization and individualization in their products and services, which ultimately means that they demand agility from businesses. The market for unique experiences has grown to an unavoidably large size, and this change in market desires will continue to create a major ripple effect across all industries.

If you don’t want to see your costs increase while your productivity decreases, you have to be prepared to adjust. This means putting standards and practices in place that are changeable and establishing a work force that is capable of changing with them, which doesn’t always resemble some of the lean processes used today. Lean has always been the buzzword for methods that reduce waste, but now that waste is threatening business in entirely new ways, lean may not be enough without agile by its side.


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Share Your Thoughts    |2 comments|


  • Brian Buck says:

    I think Mr. Jannise is talking about a surface-level understanding of Lean. Lean is much more than waste removal, great quality, and better productivity.

    My understanding of Lean is to create organizations that are able to flex to meet customer’s demands. Once waste is removed and things are productive, people have capacity to be pulled to meet needs.

    Standards are changable in Lean (in fact there is an expectation that standards keep improving.) While some clients have a “set it and forget it” mentality once standardized work is established, organizations that achieve Lean gains keep working at their standards.

    All in all, I see Lean as being what the author is advocating for. I only have a surface level understanding of Agile, but I think Lean fulfills what he is talking about.

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      Thanks for the comment. I especially like the part about standards. I tell teams, “Always follow the standards, but if you don’t like them, change them.”
      People tend to act like standards are carved on stone tablets.


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