All You Need to Know About: Lean, Agile, Scrum, and Kanban

Lean, Agile, Scrum, and Kanban. All of these words you might have heard in business class, around the office, or referenced by your bosses. But, you might not know what they mean.

Office Upgraded is here to provide you with a quick, understandable summary to take away the mystery of what these terms mean and how they are used. 

Lean, or Lean Six Sigma, is a method of manufacturing and management that relies on collaboration and teamwork to improve performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation (in products or services). Lean is a term often used with Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste, commonly referred to as ‘muda.’

What are the eight types of waste?

  1. Product Defects
  2. Overproduction
  3. Waiting
  4. Non-Utilized Talent
  5. Transportation
  6. Inventory
  7. Motion
  8. Extra Processing

Lean provides a framework to reduce these wastes, and save money through organizational changes. While there have been different definitions provided, all focus on the removal of waste and the utilization of teamwork to improve a company’s bottom line. Although Lean is usually referenced specifically for manufacturing companies, it can be utilized by all businesses.

Generally speaking, some of the tools to implement Lean Production include:

  • SMED (single-minute exchange of die) – a system for dramatically reducing the time it takes to complete equipment changeovers to lower manufacturing costs, reduce lot sizes, improve responsiveness to customer demand, lower inventory levels, and run more smoothly
  • Value Stream Mapping – a Lean-management method (and visual tool) for analyzing the current state of a business and developing a future state for the series of events that provide a customer with a service or product
  • Poka-Yoke – the process of error-proofing your manufacturing process
  • Single-Point Scheduling – reducing the complication of scheduling at several different points within a value stream
  • Six Sigma – a process of improvement methodology with the goal to eliminate defects in the outcome of a process

Six Sigma is generally data driven, and the use of statistical analysis to determine errors and error frequency is common. Statistically, Six Sigma means having an error rate of only 3.4 defects per one million products or process outcomes. Lean is an aspect of Six Sigma.

Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps deliver value to customers with fewer challenges along the way. Rather than delivering a product or service all at once, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable and usable, increments. This focuses on individual requirements and responsibilities within a team, plans, and results.

Agile helps teams adapt to changing environments, and provides a framework to complete a project. Commonly, Agile begins with requirements, the general goals of a project. Design and development follow, with testing beginning after a project has been completed. Once testing is complete, the project (product or service) is deployed and then reviewed and revised. This circular process allows for constant revision and the ability to readdress any changes to be made, rather than waiting until the end.

Ultimately, the goal of Agile is to deliver value faster and with more quality. Scrum, and Kanban, are two of the most widely used Agile methodologies. These help provide benefits to customers, vendors, and the development teams within an organization. Unlike Lean, this is not specifically meant for manufacturing, although both can be used in any business.

Scrum is a framework meant to help adapt to complex problems while producing and delivering high-quality products. Fundamentally, Scrum focuses on the utilization of a group, or a cohesive unit of workers, rather than a strict managerial or hierarchical structure. The goal is to identify an opportunity to succeed, understand the desired outcomes of a situation, evaluate possible solutions to a problem, build, and then deploy and measure the success of a product.

Although initially meant to emphasize software development, scrum has been used in research, sales, marketing, and advanced technologies. Like Agile, projects are broken into smaller goals completed in shorter time frames. Meetings are also short, focusing on feedback and retrospection, rather than day to day tasks. Employees are given freedom to experiment, reflect, and improve.

While meetings are short, daily face-to-face communication among team members is encouraged. Check out our article on the best apps for teamwork in the workplace to help create the ideal workspace for scrum.

Scrum typically follows the framework depicted below, as described by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland in their book Software in 30 Days.

And finally, Kanban, a popular framework used to implement Agile. Kanban is a work-management system designed to help you visualize your work, limit work-in-progress (or uncompleted work), and maximize efficiency through teamwork. With real-time communication and transparency of work, work items are represented visually on a Kanban board, allowing employees and team members to see the state of every piece of work at any time.

With Kanban’s focus on efficiency, and a straightforward work management system, it is easy to see where bottlenecks in a system are and identify any problems before they affect workflow. In place in a team environment, Kanban also allows workers to be held accountable, with teams viewing the work of others and the progress of the group as a whole.

One of the main principles of Kanban is a focus on incremental, but evolutionary, improvements. By encouraging small changes, collaboration and feedback are encouraged. Rather than taking big strides that complicate processes and frustrate employees, Kanban allows for gradual, easy to adjust to changes to be made within a team environment.

When implementing Kanban, you want to:

  1. Visualize the Workflow
  2. Limit Work in Progress
  3. Manage the Flow of Work
  4. Make Processes and Policies Explicit
  5. Implement Feedback Loops
  6. Improve Collaboratively

Teamwork is vital to implementing Kanban, and with all of the various management methods, teamwork is vital to success. With a little bit of effort, these can be implemented into your workplace, and help to improve your business. Dive deeper into each topic, exploring how they fit your unique organization, and check back on Office Upgraded for a quick summary on how to implement Lean, Agile, Scrum, and Kanban.

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