What is the Difference Between Lean vs Agile Software Development?

There are numerous different approaches to software development. The fact is that different requirements call for different approaches. But the two of the most favoured software development methodologies are Lean and Agile software development.

These development methods are used in a wide range of industries and help teams deliver results that are not only fast but also sustainable.

However, these days the terms are thrown around in the wrong manner – oftentimes as synonyms which is not the case.

In this article, we are going to compare Lean vs Agile software development across a series of parameters. And also share some similarities between the two of them.

It is important to drill down and understand the whole Lean vs Agile phenomenon (especially for a project manager) so that the methodologies are leveraged aptly and can obtain the desired results.

What is Agile Development?

Agile is a dynamic software development approach prioritizing small, iterative changes, frequent testing, and customer collaboration to create high-quality software.

Before starting with the software development, it is advisable to write a software requirement specification to avoid heavy iterations. While encouraging flexible responses to change, Agile promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, fast delivery, and continuous improvement in the process. In Agile process each phase of development is divided and then planning, implementation, testing and evaluation is carried out.

Agile framework/approach emphasizes enabling communication between developers/teams and customers/end users. And more importantly, reacting positively to the changes in any stage of the development.

Among the 12 principles in “The Agile Manifesto for Software Development”, customer satisfaction, welcoming change, and delivering frequently are the first three principles.

Ultimately, the Agile principles and framework/approach give an extremely strong product based on heavy programming.

The Agile Manifesto

Agile Manifesto

Agile came into play because there were popular bulky methodologies that didn’t allow software projects to do what they were supposed to do. And that is the development of software that delivered all the needs of the customer.

In the 1980s and 90s, developers were using traditional approaches such as the Waterfall method for development. The problem was that it took them months to create and develop a product and by the time they released the product, it was already outdated.

A group of 17 developers met at Snowbird resort in Utah in 2001. That is where the Agile Manifesto was written. It has 12 principles that act as guidelines before you implement the Agile approach for development.

The values of the Agile Methodology are:

  1. A mindset of individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

The 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto are:


  1. The top priority is customer satisfaction
  2. Changing requirements are welcome
  3. Frequent delivery of software
  4. Cooperation of business people and developers on a daily basis
  5. Build projects around motivated people
  6. A face-to-face conversation is the best
  7. Progress is measured by working software
  8. Sustainable development pace
  9. Attention to technical excellence
  10. Simplicity
  11. Self-organizing teams
  12. Regular reflection and adaptation

So any project that follows these values and principles can be categorized under the Agile approach for developing software.

The success rate of the Agile method is 42% compared to 26% for the Waterfall approach.

You could attribute this success rate of Agile development to the iterative cycle that it leverages.

So Agile development has all the basic stages of development that are planning, analyzing, designing, coding, testing, and deployment.

But what sets Agile development is that the method follows a cycle rather than a line. So the whole stages are more modular and flexible.

Do you want to learn about one of the most popular Agile frameworks which is Scrum? Read this dedicated comparison post on Scrum vs Agile. Learn how the Scrum framework of Agile helps in the development process as well as the core difference between Agile and Scrum.

What is Lean Development?

Lean Development is a process for focusing on optimizing the development time and resources, eliminating unnecessary procedures and functions, and delivering only that version of the products which meets the core demands of the customers.

The Lean approach aims at removing the fluff – all that’s unnecessary, from the software engineering process. Lean management is all about reducing the risk factor and optimizing the process (eliminating waste).

You might also know this concept as a Minimum viable product or MVP strategy.

Both are termed differently but share similar goals and procedures.


Lean development is focused on maintaining a steady flow of development that improves both products and services. The roots of the Lean approach go back to the 1950s when Toyota automobiles were manufactured in Japan.

  • Taiichi Ohno, the father of TPS, invented the Toyota Production System(TPS) approach to streamline its production of cars, eliminate waste, and all that didn’t directly contribute to the production.
  • Any action that didn’t directly impact the functionality of the car on a holistic level, was considered a waste under this system and was removed from the production process.
  • The system was a big success and helped Toyota in reducing the inventory costs and increasing their manufacturing efficiency.
  • Soon the automobile giant started to wipe out its competition. The rival organizations also adopted the practices of the Japanese organizations and called them Lean.
  • By the end of the 20th century, most automobile organizations had adopted Lean methodology into their production system.
  • And by the 21st century, Lean development found its way into the internet world.

Lean Principles

Lean principle

Essentially, Lean development comes from Lean Manufacturing. Mary and Tom Poppendieck adopted all of these practices from Lean Manufacturing and trimmed them to fit software development. Let’s read more about what are the best practices of lean methodology.

Some of the main principles/best practices of Lean development are:

  1. Elimination of waste
  2. Build Quality Software
  3. Create Knowledge
  4. Defer Commitment
  5. Fast Delivery
  6. Respect People
  7. Optimize Everything

Lean Practices In a Nutshell

  • To zero down, Lean development is about eliminating waste which means all the work that is not adding any value to the product and instead of working on what is required at the very moment.
  • Lean development has a strong focus on “the system”. It essentially means that everyone on the team should get the best-optimized work.
  • The Lean methodology also believes that software development is all about learning new things. Thus it promotes a work structure where developers are always learning.
  • Additionally, Lean highlights giving respect to those who are doing the work. The method believes that the people who are doing the work know the best, and it is better to leave it to them.
  • Lastly, the Lean approach says to develop software in a way that adds quality to the product. There is no point in delivering something fast if it is not up to the mark.

Below we’ve described the steps useful in the lean-approach.

There is a 5-step Lean approach that you can follow:

  1. Specifying the value – The team must specify the value from the customer’s point of view.
  2. Identify the important set of values – Next, identify all the values that are important for the product which also involves eliminating the steps that do not provide any value.
  3. Create a flow – Now create the steps to maintain a smooth flow.
  4. Establish pull – Once the flow is established, let the customers pull value from the next activity.
  5. Go for perfection – Seek perfection with your product and make sure there is no waste.

Want to know more information about Agile and Lean?

Have questions about how it is beneficial? Let out experts answer your question.

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As we’ve understood the definition and working process of Lean management and Agile methodology. Let’s understand the similarities of both (Lean vs Agile).

Lean vs Agile – What are the Similarities Between Agile and Lean?

Agile and Lean development practices share some similarities between them and that is why they are often used as synonyms (hence the Agile vs Lean confusion). Let us now look at those similarities one-by-one:

  1. The first similarity is the customer-centric approach. Both (Lean and Agile) approaches make client satisfaction a top priority whether it is developing
    an excellent product from the very beginning or continuously making changes when required.
  2. The Agile approach frequently provides customers with small versions of a product/project rather than a large production. Similarly, the Lean approach also tries to construct the objects or products in the least number of lots. The method believes that it is more efficient.
  3. The Agile approach always believes in regular checks of the results and working concepts of a product for evaluation and improvisation. While the Lean methodology is also all about testing and checking all the processes so that they are accurately inspected and adapted. This gives a lot of room for improvement.
  4. Both, Agile and Lean thinking focus strongly on team cooperation. Both (Lean and Agile) methods prefer the people who work over the tools that they use.
  5. In both (Lean vs Agile) software development, the top priority is the final result and the only goal is that the outcome must provide value to the customer.
  6. Despite having different approaches, the result is similar. For instance, the Agile methodology allows the customer to make changes and adapts to the customer’s needs. On the other hand, in the Lean approach, the product is designed by eliminating waste. The result is the same and the clients/customers get exactly what they want.

Although both approaches were built in different circumstances, the Lean approach was developed in the production environment to increase production efficiency. While the Agile approach was created to implement further effective development process. Lean methodology is effectively built to improve the overall process of organizations. Contrary, the Agile methodology is used within a team to improvise the product development.

Comparison – Lean vs Agile

While both Agile and Lean software development shares their commonalities, there are some differences as well:

Flexibility It has different frameworks for work management, making it more flexible. With the Lean way, you get support to continuously inspect and adapt a product.

AboutIt is a set of values and principles from the Agile Manifesto. The software development approach has six phases-

  1. Concept
  2. Inception
  3. Iteration/Construction
  4. Release
  5. Production
  6. Retirement
It is a software development method that has its roots in the manufacturing model.
Development ProcessThe Agile process involves the use of different frameworks like Scrum, Kanban.The Lean principles and processes of the manufacturing sector are transitioned for software development and then used.
IntegrationIntegration is done easily by delivering small products frequently.It uses the principles of the Lean method for development and integration.
Role of TimeProducts are delivered dynamically.Lean helps in improving the speed and quality of a product
Principles Prioritizes the scope and value of the product.Prioritizes the quality of the product and speed of development.
Built-in Features Agile can be used for both small and large products. A suitable framework is always available for every product.Lean is useful in making small batches of products.
Usability The agile approach is very dynamic nature of this method makes it easy to implement changes at any stage.The Lean approach is not flexible and making dynamic changes in the product is difficult.

Are you interested to learn about the two popular methods of software development? Check this blog post on the Agile vs Waterfall method. Read this dedicated comparison post that provides clear differences and insights on how each method is useful in different conditions. Moreover, how each method is useful in different types of project development.

Further, let’s learn about the FAQ about the Lean vs Agile software in the next section.

FAQ About Lean vs Agile

  1. Is Lean and Agile the same?

    No. Although their main aim is customer gratification and customer value, Agile and Lean methodologies for development are quite different as elaborated in the table given above.

  2. What is the difference between Lean and Agile in the project management world?

    The main difference between Lean and Agile methodology is that while Agile emphasizes development process optimization, Lean puts focus on the optimization of the production process.

    There is much other difference between Agile and Lean principles for project management as stated above. Both have different methodologies and development processes.

  3. Is Scrum Lean or Agile?

    Scrum is an Agile software development framework. This framework is an iterative software development model used to manage complex software and product development.

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So that was all about the Agile vs Lean software development process. Both of the methods have the same goal and that is to provide the best product quality to the end-user.

If you look deeper then the Agile development method has more advantages over the Lean development method because it is more mature and has more frameworks to work with.

However, both of the methods have their advantages and disadvantages and it depends on your requirements to go with either of these.

So, if you want to develop a software solution for your business to automate the process, just get in touch with us. We are a leading software development company with a team of experienced software developers to work on your project. Just fill out our contact us form and one of our representatives will get back to you.

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Rakesh Patel

Written by

Rakesh Patel is the Founder and CEO of Space-O Technologies (Canada). He has 28 years of IT experience in business strategies, operations & information technology. He has expertise in various aspects of business like project planning, sales, and marketing, and has successfully defined flawless business models for the clients. A techie by mind and a writer at heart, he has authored two books – Enterprise Mobility: Strategy & Solutions and A Guide To Open311

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