Lean vs. Agile & DevOps: Which is best for your team?

Atlassian By Atlassian
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Three big players dominate the fast-paced world of project management  — Lean, Agile, and DevOps. Lean is the efficiency expert, rooted in minimizing waste and maximizing value. Agile is a quick thinker, always ready to adapt to new challenges. DevOps is the tech-savvy multitasker, bridging gaps between development and operations.

The key differences lie in their focus — Lean aims for efficiency, Agile for adaptability, and DevOps principles for automation. 

This guide examines the similarities and differences between Lean, Agile, and DevOps so you can determine which methodology is best for you and your team. 





Primary focus


  • Elimination of process waste
  • Continuous improvement


  • Iterative development with feedback loops
  • Quick response to changes


  • Enhancement of collaboration between Dev teams and IT Ops
  • Improvement of deployment frequency and software quality

Best suited for


  • Manufacturing
  • Service industries


  • Software development


  • Software development

Tools and techniques


  • Value stream mapping
  • Root cause analysis (RCA)
  • 5S


  • Scrum boards
  • Sprints
  • Daily Stand-ups
  • User stories
  • Kanban boards


  • CI/CD pipelines
  • Infrastructure as code (IaC)
  • Configuration management tools

Implementation challenges


  • Resistance from employees
  • Complex to implement across multiple teams


  • Requires cultural shift toward collaboration
  • Entails frequent changes


  • Integrating diverse and complex tools into a cohesive workflow
  • Overcoming team silos

Lean vs. Agile methodology

Lean and Agile are two project management and product development methodologies that have been the subject of much research and discussion. This section compares the nuances of Agile vs. Lean in terms of their focus and execution.

What are the objectives of Lean vs. Agile methodologies?

Often misconceived as a subset of Agile, Lean is a distinct methodology with its own primary objectives – namely, eliminating waste and improving operational flow. Lean strongly emphasizes respect for people by involving employees in a culture of continuous improvement. The ultimate goal is to create a system that maximizes value while minimizing resources.

Agile project management methodologies aim to be flexible, adaptable, and responsive to change. They focus on continuous improvement, tight feedback loops, and cyclical planning and execution. These characteristics make Agile methodologies particularly well-suited for managing dynamic environments such as software development.

Jira caters to teams practicing both Lean and Agile methodologies. It offers features that help teams plan, track, and release software more efficiently, serving as a bridge between these two approaches.

What are the core principles of Lean methodology vs. Agile methodology?

Lean project management centers its principles on resourceful practices and shedding unnecessary process steps. Lean focuses on optimizing the flow of products and services across various teams and technologies to deliver maximum value to customers. By eliminating waste and streamlining operations, every action a team takes is purposeful and directly contributes to end goals. 

Agile methodology focuses on customer collaboration, adaptability, and value delivery. It employs a flexible approach that accommodates changes and adjustments throughout the project life cycle. Agile encourages iterative development where cross-functional, self-organizing teams collaborate to evolve requirements and solutions.

Within Agile methodology, frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban serve as structured approaches that guide teams in implementing Agile principles effectively:

  • Scrum focuses on planning, tracking, and managing work across fixed time periods called sprints. It aims to increase transparency, manage workloads effectively, and deliver value to customers faster. Scrum involves building a backlog, planning sprints, and using Agile reports for data-driven decisions.
  • Kanban emphasizes visualizing the workflow, limiting work in progress, and respecting existing processes and roles. It helps teams manage their tasks and projects by visualizing the workflow on a Kanban board. A kanban board displays tasks as cards in columns, representing different stages of a workflow. 

Jira offers ready-to-use Agile templates for both Scrum and Kanban, making it easier to implement these Agile frameworks quickly and effectively.

What are the challenges of Lean vs. Agile methodologies?

Lean methodology isn't always smooth sailing. Project managers can hit roadblocks if employees dig in their heels against new processes. This resistance can manifest in various ways, such as reluctance to abandon familiar routines or concerns about potential job disruptions.

The complexity of implementing Lean principles across various teams can be daunting, requiring a significant investment of time and resources. Each team has its own set of processes and dynamics that need to be reviewed to draft a new set of process rules. 

Agile methodologies face their own set of challenges, including scope creep due to their flexible nature and difficulties in team collaboration, especially when team members are not co-located. The iterative approach, while beneficial, can lead to frequent changes that may disrupt the workflow.

When should you use Agile vs. Lean methodologies?

If you're looking to streamline your operations and make meaningful process improvements, Lean is the solution. It focuses on getting more done with less, and has proven success in industries like manufacturing where efficiency is king.

For certain project management use cases—particularly in tech, software development, and other fast-paced, dynamic fields—Agile is more your speed. It lets you pivot quickly when necessary, so you're never stuck on a one-way street.

Jira, the leading agile project management tool for software teams, is versatile enough to support both Agile and Lean principles. It offers features such as sprint planning and backlog prioritization for Agile workflows, as well as DevOps templates, Kanban templates, and Scrum templates to fit various project management styles.

Can Lean and Agile principles be used at the same time?

Yes, Lean and Agile can co-exist. The methodologies aren't mutually exclusive—they're more like two sides of the same coin. 

Lean's focus on eliminating waste and optimizing flow can complement Agile's adaptability and responsiveness. When used together, they can create a powerhouse of efficiency and value, allowing companies to be both nimble and resource-smart.

Lean vs. DevOps methodology

Lean and DevOps serve different purposes but share common goals of efficiency and value creation. While Lean aims to apply broad operational efficiency in various settings, DevOps focuses on the specific needs of software development and operations. This section unpacks the unique characteristics of each and explores how they can work together.

What are the objectives of Lean vs. DevOps methodologies?

DevOps primarily aims to break down silos between development and operations teams, enabling faster, more reliable software releases. It's all about using continuous integration, continuous delivery, and automation to speed up the software development life cycle.

In contrast, Lean focuses on overall operational efficiency, waste reduction, and continuous improvement. While both aim for efficiency and value, DevOps is more specialized for the software development environment.

If you're looking to blend these approaches, Open DevOps by Jira is a solid choice. It integrates various tools to help teams focus on what they do best—building and operating software. Open DevOps offers a seamless, out-of-the-box experience for teams looking to start right away.

What are the core principles of Lean vs. DevOps methodologies?

Lean methodology focuses on two key principles—eliminating waste and continuous improvement. It aims to create a workflow that delivers maximum value using minimal resources, all while engaging employees in the ongoing refinement of the process.

The three main DevOps principles are collaboration, automation, and feedback:

  • Collaboration fosters a culture where development and operations teams work together closely, breaking down silos to achieve common goals.
  • Automation streamlines processes by mechanizing repetitive tasks, such as code deployment and infrastructure changes, to improve efficiency and reduce human error.
  • Feedback establishes quick response loops through monitoring and analytics, allowing DevOps teams to continuously improve and adapt to changing requirements.

What are the challenges of Lean vs. DevOps methodologies?

Teams implementing DevOps often encounter unique challenges, such as creating a collaborative culture between development and operations teams, which have traditionally operated in silos. Another issue is managing intricate toolchains that demand specialized skills. There's also the need for automation across different stages of the software delivery life cycle.

Lean implementations also face hurdles, including pushback from employees hesitant to adopt new workflows and the intricacies associated with rolling out Lean principles across various organizational units. Lean is about changing the entire company culture, which can make it difficult to solicit buy-in. But every team, from procurement to production to sales, must be aligned with the Lean philosophy to ensure success.

When should you use Lean vs. DevOps methodologies?

If you're aiming to refine existing processes and cut out inefficiencies, Lean is your best bet. It's versatile and applies to various sectors, not just tech. Its principles shine in industries that have tangible outputs. For example, in the manufacturing sector, Lean can aid in reducing production waste and improving workflow efficiency. Similarly, in healthcare, it can help optimize patient care processes and reduce wait times.

If you work in software development and you want to streamline the entire life cycle—from coding and building to deploying and monitoring—DevOps is the obvious choice and industry favorite. It brings your development and operations teams together for faster, smoother deployments. 

Open DevOps takes it a step further by providing an integrated platform that's ready to use with out-of-the-box automations, allowing your Agile teams to focus on what they do best. Use Jira’s DevOps template to get started quickly.

Can Lean and DevOps principles be used at the same time?

Lean and DevOps can not only coexist but also complement each other beautifully. Lean, with its focus on streamlining processes and eliminating waste, provides a solid foundation for DevOps, which aims to automate and integrate the work of software development and IT operations. 

When combined, these methodologies can create a system that is both agile and efficient—leading to quicker delivery cycles, improved quality, and a more responsive system overall.

Improve project management with proven methods

Lean, Agile, and DevOps each offer unique advantages for streamlining projects and enhancing efficiency, but no matter which methodology you're leaning toward, Atlassian has got you covered.

With Jira, your software team is free to choose the methodology that best suits your project's needs rather than being confined to just one approach. This leading Agile project management tool allows your software teams to break down big ideas into manageable tasks, making it easier to plan, track, and release software.

If you're looking to supercharge your project management, Atlassian’s Open DevOps solution is another powerful addition to your toolkit. Powered by Jira, Open DevOps seamlessly integrates various tools, both from Atlassian and third-party partners, into one cohesive platform. Customizing the platform to fit your unique requirements and allow your teams to focus on building and operating top-notch software.

Lean vs. Agile & DevOps principles: Frequently Questions

Which came first, Lean or Agile?

Lean came first, tracing its roots back to the Toyota Production System in the 1950s, which aimed to optimize manufacturing processes. Agile emerged much later, in the early 2000s, primarily as a response to the limitations of traditional software development methodologies.

How does DevOps complement Agile project management?

DevOps and Agile go hand in hand, enhancing each other's strengths. While Agile focuses on the development side of things—iterating quickly, adapting to change, and delivering value—DevOps takes care of the operational aspects. It automates workflows and integrates different stages of the development cycle, making it easier to release new features or fixes. 

This creates a streamlined pipeline where Agile teams can see their work go live more quickly and efficiently.

Is Lean or Agile project management easier to implement?

Lean usually has a smoother onboarding curve compared to Agile. Agile's strength in flexibility can actually make it a bit tricky to get off the ground. It's not just about changing processes—it's about changing the whole team dynamic. The iterative nature of Agile requires teams to be highly adaptive and communicative. But the emphasis on frequent iterations can be overwhelming for teams used to more traditional, linear approaches.

With Agile, you're looking at a cultural revamp and a continuous learning curve. But don't let that scare you—once you get past the initial bumps, Agile can really pay off.

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