Why you should beware of professionals that set lean against agile

This post discusses the opinion that professionals, experts, and thought leaders consistently setting lean against agile are likely to be in discord with lean and agile mindset and foundations.

This post also describes how lean/agile polyglots, that seamlessly use and mix ideas from a repertoire of lean and agile methods and practices, better serve organisations, teams, and the lean/agile community.

Human Family poem on similarities and differences, by Maya Angelou, American poet.

The mindset behind the way we respond to differences

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of differences and diversity.
Differences and diversity are fundamental in what makes every individual distinct and unique. Without them there could not be a personal identity; what’s makes you yourself, won’t be possible.

Without distinctions, for example, a relationship can become dysfunctional and co-dependent, and politics can turn into fascism. Even the many lightweight methods under the Agile umbrella term have many differences among them.

And that’s what makes it valuable to learn and experience as many of the methods as possible.
You can say exactly the same for the many Lean methods and practices.

In short, differences are everywhere and all around us.
How do you react to and deal with differences?

How lean and agile professionals, experts, and thought leaders react to differences between lean and agile, and among lean methods and practices and agile ones, tells more about themselves and how they respond to differences and diversity, than about lean and agile. It’s like the Rorschach inkblot test, where an interpretation of an inkblot tells more about the respondent mindset than about the inkblot itself.

One way to look at differences and diversity is in a conflictual way, separating different things in opposing camps. Another consists in focusing on similarities, and finding new and beneficial ways to connect dots between different things. When someone consistently uses one approach over the other, that become the primary and preferred way a person reacts to diversity and differences, it turns into a mindset.

Lean and agile mindset, and its approach to differences

The approach that focuses on similarities and possible connections, has been adopted for example in the writing of the agile manifesto: authors of the manifesto looked at a set of lightweight methods, and identified a set of common values and principles.

Likewise Tom and Mary Poppendieck connected the dots between lean manufacturing and software development, into lean software development.

Kent Beck connected the dots between lean and software development practices into eXtreme Programming.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland connected the dots between lean thinking and complexity thinking and you find both ingredients mixed in Scrum.

Eiji Toyoda, with Taiichi Ohno, has been the father of Toyota Production System (TPS), a precursor of Lean.

A famous quote from Eiji Toyoda is this: “Since people make things, work must begin with developing people.”

Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno, in the TPS, encouraged seamless collaboration across job roles and even across different hierarchical levels of the org chart.

Alistair Cockburn, one of the signatories of the agile manifesto, puts collaboration at the heart of agile.

The examples above show how much the lean and agile mindset is in harmony with a mindset focused on similarities and on the possibilities to find new and beneficial connections between different things, more than with a conflictual or divisive mindset.

For this reason, those professionals, experts, and thought leaders who consistently respond to lean and agile differences in divisive and conflictual ways, setting lean against agile, are more likely to be bad masters of the lean and agile mindset, and more likely to adopt behaviours that are in discord with the lean agile spirit.

Instead, lean and agile polyglots that can choose from a repertoire of lean and agile methods and practices, and can seamlessly mix them to suit each unique context and circumstances, have a better chance to serve well the individuals, teams and organisations adopting and practising lean and agile.

And we can say the same also about serving the lean/agile community, one of the most active and prolific world wide communities.


In conclusion, individuals, teams and organisations adopting lean and agile, and the lean/agile community, are better served by lean and agile polyglots that focus on commonalities and new connections.

What about yourself? How is your approach to lean and agile?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *