Agile Project Management vs. Lean Continuous Improvement: A Real-World Example — Seamless.Partners

By Dave Kearney, Susan Larson Bouwer, and Anjan Chatterjee

Suppose you’re thinking of opening a restaurant. You’ll need to make a lot of smart decisions so that your establishment will achieve success. These choices include location, pricing, and cuisine-all of them will have a significant impact on your ability to succeed. To help with these decisions, you might first look at the community in which you’re thinking of locating your restaurant. Who lives in the neighborhood? What can they afford? And what kinds of food might they like to eat?

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Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

Both Lean Continuous Improvement and Agile Project Management provide benefits to your new enterprise and help your new restaurant thrive. To start, let’s look at Lean. Lean is a way to organize operations to maximize the flow of value to customers while minimizing waste. By using Lean, your staff can identify specific areas for improvement by observing where and how people do the actual work. With a Lean mindset, you rely on those who do the job to determine the best improvement course. Through this collaborative process, your cross-functional team can introduce changes and evaluate them against pre-determined improvement metrics.

But how would Lean apply in our restaurant example? Lean addresses operational and process questions: How does the wait-staff take the customers’ orders and deliver them to the kitchen? How does the kitchen manage and process incoming orders? What happens if there are problems or hiccups? And how do your customers receive and pay their tabs? Using Lean methodologies, you can create cross-functional processes and procedures to keep operations flowing at their highest capacity.

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Photo by Hemant Latawa on Unsplash

Lean can also help if significant organizational changes are necessary. What if your restaurant is not very popular or not profitable? Maybe your prices are too high, your location is not optimal, or perhaps your food is just not very good. Lean provides methodologies for creating and evaluating via tests and experiments with your customers to gather information and make structural “pivots” when necessary.

The things to remember about Lean Continuous Improvement is that it can improve efficiency, reduce waste, and increase productivity. Companies that employ lean generally experience increased product quality, improved lead times, sustainability, higher employee satisfaction, and increased profits.

As you can see, Lean Continuous Improvement helps at a macro level, whereas Agile Project Management helps at the micro-level. Lean encourages the tests and experiments that we mentioned. It’s Agile that provides a set of methodologies for creating and building new products and services despite some level of uncertainty.

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Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

To better understand Agile, let’s once again turn to our restaurant example. You’ve run some tests or surveys and decided that you want to make a new shrimp dish for your menu. You know that other restaurants in the area serve shrimp, but you have an idea for something new with spices that you believe will appeal more to your customers. With an Agile Project Management approach, you can set in motion a collaborative project plan to build the recipe over time. Using a systematic process, you can design, test, and create your new shrimp dish with the flexibility to improve it over time.

The essential advantage to Agile is clear from its name-it provides real flexibility in the creation of its solutions. If some new idea doesn’t seem like it’s quite having the level of impact you envisioned, you can adjust it on the fly the same way you would fine-tune a recipe in the kitchen until you started receiving 5-star rave reviews. Agile allows you to tailor and re-tailor your approach until you reach your goal.

Lean and Agile methodologies provide a disciplined and structured approach to managing workflows with little or no drama, even during an emergency. Team members all know their responsibilities and have both responsibility and accountability. Team project tracking and measuring in companies that wholeheartedly adopt Lean and Agile are a source of pride instead of fear. Lean Continuous Improvement and Agile Project Management work hand-in-hand to build flexibility and optimization into any organization and drive success at every level.

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Photo by Trường Trung Cấp Kinh Tế Du Lịch Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh CET on Unsplash
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Dave Kearney

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Susan Larson Bouwer

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Anjan Chatterjee

Technology executive with deep software engineering, management, & business development experience with a passion for EdTech and helping at-risk kids.

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