Agile vs. Lean project management: How do they compare?

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Have you ever found yourself torn between Agile and Lean project management methodologies? If so, you're not alone. 

Many project managers wonder which approach will maximize efficiency and deliver customer value.

Lean project management, rooted in the Toyota Production System, focuses on reducing waste and streamlining processes. Manufacturing often employs this method, but software development and other sectors also apply it. On the other hand, Agile is all about flexibility and adaptability. Managers often employ it in software development to respond to changing customer needs swiftly.

It is vital to understand the core principles of each before deciding which approach best suits your project and team’s needs.

This article will dissect the differences between Lean and Agile project management methodologies and offer insights to help project managers decide which approach to use.

What is Lean project management?

Lean project management enhances operations, cuts waste, and offers distinct value in terms of cost-efficiency, quality, and speed to market. It mainly focuses on improving operations and making customers happy. The method cultivates a culture of continuous improvement, a practice that involves identifying bottlenecks, eliminating redundancies, and aligning team members' objectives with overarching project goals. 

Lean project management focuses on an iterative approach. This not only meets current customer needs but also foresees future demands. It shows a long-term commitment to delivering specific value.

Organizational goals in Lean project management often align with Lean portfolio management. The latter applies Lean principles to manage multiple projects strategically across a company.

What is Agile project management?

Agile project management is an iterative and incremental methodology that places a strong emphasis on customer collaboration. It especially suits complex and rapidly changing software development projects.

Agile differs from traditional project management models. It allows for quick adjustments throughout the project's lifecycle. This is especially beneficial in software development approaches such as DevOps, where requirements can change quickly due to customer feedback or technological advancements.

The Agile framework employs two primary methodologies: Scrum and Kanban

Scrum works well in environments where teams must adapt swiftly to changing requirements. It divides work into small, manageable sprints. Each sprint lasts two to four weeks and aims to meet specific objectives.

Jira Software includes a comprehensive Scrum template to help you manage sprints effectively.

Kanban works best in varied work environments. It is less structured than Scrum but still manages items based on complexity and priority. This methodology helps teams visualize their entire workflow, from task initiation to completion. By imposing limits on work-in-progress, Kanban ensures efficient task completion and fosters a culture of continuous delivery. To facilitate this, Jira Software offers a specialized Kanban template designed to optimize workflow management.

Differences between Lean vs. Agile

Navigating the world of project management methodologies can be daunting. To make an informed choice between Agile and Lean as an effective project management approach for your team, it is vital to understand their nuances. 

This section highlights the critical differences between Agile and Lean project management methodologies.


Lean’s core principles include waste reduction and process improvement. It aims to optimize processes to deliver maximum value across the company. 

Agile focuses on customer satisfaction. It aims to quickly adapt to changing requirements and deliver valuable features to customers through iterative cycles.

Project approach

Lean aims to streamline the entire project lifecycle. Through its key principles, Lean project management adopts a holistic approach. It focuses on process improvement to boost efficiency and deliver customer value.

Agile focuses on iterative development cycles and close collaboration with customers, using frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban boards to manage tasks and team members.

Team structure

Cross-functional teams are a cornerstone of Lean methodology. Teams collaborate to achieve process improvement throughout the company, aiming for broad organizational impact. 

In contrast, Agile teams often focus on specific projects and operate in iterative cycles. The setup changes fast based on what customers say and what they need, making it quick and easy to create and launch solutions. 

When comparing Lean and Agile, evaluate how each team structure aligns with your company's goals.

Project timeline

Lean does not adhere to fixed timelines but aims for ongoing, incremental improvements. Its approach to timelines is both adaptable and unpredictable. It offers flexibility in managing projects but may require additional oversight to keep long-term objectives in focus.

Agile predominantly operates within fixed-length sprints, typically ranging from one week to four weeks. This structure enables teams to prioritize work, deliver incremental value, and adapt based on stakeholder feedback quickly. The timeline is thus well-defined, allowing predictability.

Performance tracking

Lean focuses on measuring overall process efficiency and customer value, while Agile zeroes in on sprint metrics and individual performance. 

Lean performance tracking centers on continuous improvement and customer satisfaction, and assesses how individual tasks contribute to the broader objectives. This performance-tracking focus aligns with the core principles of Lean methodology.

It can also be key when choosing between Agile and Lean. If your company prefers a comprehensive view of efficiency and customer value, Lean might be your go-to methodology. 

Ultimately, both methodologies are beneficial. But the choice when considering Agile vs. Lean project management depends on your needs and the nature of your projects.

Similarities between Lean vs. Agile

While Lean and Agile project management methodologies have differences, they share some common traits. This section gives a closer look at the key similarities between Lean and Agile.

Customer-centric approach

Lean and Agile methodologies prioritize the customer. 

Lean delivers value to customers by improving processes and eliminating waste. Agile emphasizes customer satisfaction by delivering small, incremental changes based on customer feedback. 

The methods differ, but the goal is the same: to provide customers with a product or service that meets or exceeds their expectations.

Continuous improvement

Lean and Agile methodologies are both committed to continuous improvement. 

Lean employs a systematic approach to identify inefficiencies and eliminate waste. Agile thrives on iterative cycles, allowing for regular evaluation and adjustment. 

These methodologies encourage teams to learn from each project phase, making data-driven decisions to enhance performance and customer satisfaction.


Lean and Agile methodologies rely on flexibility to respond to changes quickly. Lean eliminates waste to create a more efficient workflow, while Agile emphasizes adaptability to meet customer needs. 

Both these methods allow project managers to pivot when necessary. This adaptability is crucial in today's fast-paced business environment.

Minimal waste

Lean and Agile methodologies prioritize minimizing waste in different ways. Lean streamlines processes to eliminate waste in every project aspect, including time and resources. While not explicitly designed to minimize waste, Agile achieves this through its iterative cycles and feedback loops. 

Project managers can leverage these methodologies to create efficient, waste-free project processes, decreasing costs and increasing customer satisfaction.






Originated from Toyota's manufacturing techniques in Japan during the 1950s


Emerged in the late 1990s as a response to traditional software development methodologies



Focuses on continuous improvement and waste reduction. Derived from manufacturing principles.


Guided by the Agile Manifesto, which emphasized flexibility, customer collaboration, and early delivery.



Aims at improving product quality and operational efficiency


Centers on customer satisfaction and delivering valuable functionality



Suitable for small batches and continuous flow systems


Applicable to small and large projects, focusing on incremental progress



Supports continuous inspection and adaptation, less flexible to dynamic changes


Follows a continuous iteration approach, high adaptable to changes

Type of product


Best suited for workflow and process optimization software, where efficiency and waste reduction are key


Ideal for consumer-facing applications and platforms that require rapid iterations based on user feedback

Project management with Jira

Choosing the right tool for project management is crucial. Jira Software excels as a versatile platform that accommodates various methodologies such as Lean and Agile. 

In an Agile context, it offers structured frameworks for sprint planning and issue tracking. It creates a cohesive environment for rapid changes and customer feedback. For Lean teams, the platform encourages real-time collaboration and project visualization, helping to quickly identify and solve inefficiencies for continuous improvement. 

While not a methodology, DevOps also finds compatibility with Jira, which serves as an integrated platform to enhance communication and automate workflows.

If Jira Software doesn't meet your needs, consider Jira Align. This tool enables you to see value streams across teams, automate your process flows, and make sure your work aligns with business goals. 

With Jira Align, you can track your investments, streamline operations, identify roadblocks, and continuously deliver value. This feature-rich addition makes Jira indispensable, no matter what project management approach you use.

Lean vs. Agile: Frequently asked questions

How do you select the right approach for your business?

The best approach for your business depends on several factors. These include your goals, project nature, and team expertise.

Agile might be the best choice to focus on rapid delivery and customer feedback. Lean may be a better option to reduce waste and increase efficiency. Be sure to assess your needs and constraints before making a decision.

How do DevOps principles differ from Lean?

DevOps principles, as found in the DevOps guide, focus on the end-to-end software delivery pipeline, while Lean emphasizes eliminating waste and improving efficiency across all processes. 

DevOps fosters collaboration between software development and IT operations. It often employs automation to accelerate tasks. In contrast, Lean takes a broader approach, targeting waste elimination across the entire value stream of a product or service.

How do value stream management principles differ from Lean?

Value stream management optimizes the flow of value through a system. Lean principles focus on cutting waste and improving efficiency.

Value stream management emphasizes aligning all elements of the value stream to deliver maximum customer value. But Lean streamlines processes to remove activities that don't add value. 

Therefore, both approaches aim for efficiency but target different aspects of the project lifecycle.