Is "Lean" considered an Agile methodology?

Is “Lean” a type of Agile methodology?

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Were you listening in on my office conversation last week? This question actually came up there. If this question was asked a few years ago, I suspect I’d have a different answer. As it is, a universally accepted straight forward “yes” or “no” answer is unlikely from my perspective.

Lean Software Development was named by Mary and Tom Poppendiek in their 2003 book Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. It grew as an adaptation of the ideas from Lean manufacturing and ideas from Lean IT and applied to software development. Clearly, they perceived this as supporting Agile development (it is in the subtitle, right?) 

The ideas expressed in that book show strong similarities between the principles of Lean Development and the principles laid out in the Agile Manifesto. I strongly suggest getting a copy and reading the ideas yourself, rather than the baggage that gets associated around debates like this. Also, look at the principles in the Agile Manifesto and I believe you will see many of the same ideas. Yes, they are expressed a little differently, and I believe the central themes are still present. 

I prefer going to the original sources as much as possible and paying more attention to them than to the sometimes rancorous debates to be found on Internet discussion forums. Then, I consider reasoned discussion to shape my thinking and draw my own conclusions.

When I read them, I saw that both spoke directly to delivering software that satisfies customer needs as quickly as possible. Both talked directly to improving internal communication. Both spoke directly to empowering the team to create good software. The list goes on.

There are differences in how the ideas are expressed. However, I tend to look for core themes, central ideas that are at the heart of the matter. To me, these similarities are too great to dismiss out of hand.

There are some in the Agile community who would reject the idea that Lean is an Agile methodology. There are others who would state with absolute certainty that it is. I believe there is a growing sense that Lean is becoming more accepted with the Agile community as a valuable component.  

Finally, I don’t worry too much over what something is or is not. If I can use it to get my job done, and I can do that better with the tool or concept than I can without, I use it. That is part of being Agile, right? You know, flexible, light and nimble?

This was first published in August 2011

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