ASQ has asked their Influential Voices to explore the question “Is Agile the new Lean?” I have participated with the program since 2012: see my past blog posts as part of the ASQ Influential Voices program.
No Agile is not the new Lean.
On this blog, in 2008, I wrote about Future Directions for Agile Management:
As I learned about agile software development, what I saw was a great implementation of management improvement practices focused on software development that was very compatible with Deming’s management philosophy and lean thinking practices.
There are many useful concepts, tools and practices within what people refer to as agile software development. And the same can be said for lean. But they are distinct approaches (the links in this post flush out this idea more for those interested in learning more on that topic). That isn’t to say an organization cannot design their own solution that adopts ideas found in each approach. In fact doing so for software development makes sense in my opinion.
I have written about why trying to find a management recipe to follow is a very bad idea. You need to learn, experiment, adjust and keep iterating doing those 3 things.
Another way agile and lean are similar is that often organization try adopting the slogan name (agile or lean) and a couple concepts or practices they haphazardly pick from those methods and then create a management system that is not good.
What those seeking to improve management should do is to study concepts like lean and agile and then create a management system that works in their organization. To transform to what I would consider real lean or agile (instead of just using the name) requires that how management operates, and how work gets done, changes. This rarely happens other than in a small, though sometimes visible ways. Successful transformation requires continual iteration of improvements to the management system itself.
In my opinion the best starting point is to study W. Edwards Deming’s ideas and use that to create a management system that is continually improving. But I believe lean is the next best starting point and for software development I believe agile is the next best starting point.
If you decide to transform your management system using lean management practices as a focus I think you can do great things. I would delve deeply into lean and also learn about Deming and agile software development. And if you decide to create an agile styled management system then do that and learn from Deming and lean as you continually improve. In either case continually iterate and improve they management practices that are used.
In 2014 I wrote about my efforts to manage using ideas from Deming, agile and lean in: Building a Great Software Development Team.
I have explored agile and lean in previous posts: No True Lean Thinking or Agile Software Development (2010) – Agile Software Development and Deming (2014) – Applying Toyota Kata to Agile Retrospectives (2016) – Management Improvement Flavors (2005)