What is Lean? And Agile?

In my recent readings about Lean, I’ve found a very informative table, which tried to clarify the myths around what is and what is not Lean, and contained the following information:

Myth – What TPS is Not

  • A tangible recipe for success
  • A management project or program
  • A set of tools for implementation

Reality – What TPS is

  • A consistent way of thinking
  • A total management philosophy
  • An evironment of teamwork and improvement
  • A never-ending search for a better way

Despite Lean not being a set of tools, all we see in the IT industry about it is a lot of … tools. Cycle-time, kanban, flow, pull systems, you name it and someone has already announced it as the latest solution to software projects.

I’m not saying that this tools won’t help us developing sotware, but we will sure miss a lot from what Lean has to teach us if we don’t start thinking about principles, i.e., the second part of that list, the philosophy and the thinking.

And if you start to think about Lean principles, you’ll see that they don’t differ much from the Agile ones (at least what I think about Agile :-) ). If you read about an environment of teamwork and improvement, can you tell if they are talking about Lean or Agile?

But again most people, when thinking about Agile, think about practices and not principles. Instead of being collaboration and communication, Agile for them is pair programming, iterations and retrospectives. And this is where I think the solution is. Stop thinking about what is the next set of tools that will make us better, and start thinking about which are the principles we are following and how to better apply them.

  1. This is why I rarely even talk about “Agile” or “Lean” anymore, I talk about concepts like transparency, lowering the cost of change, tightening feedback loops, etc.

    If people buy into the principles, the practices can incrementally emerge on their own or with a few well-placed nudges (such as “you know, if we could test these things in isolation, we would be more confident about making changes…”)

    If people focus just on practices, it tends to be nothing more than a cargo-cult mess. I’ve seen more than a handful of Scrum teams which weren’t the least bit agile.

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