David Lanphear

Lean, Agile, and Design Thinking Walk Into a Bar…

They are quickly greeted by the friendly bartender: “What can I get you?” he asks, noticing that they only have enough money for one drink.

“Something to quench my thirst,” Design thinking responds, “As long as we are hydrated, we will enjoy ourselves.”

“A glass of water,” Lean replies “because it follows a very quick and natural process from the source straight to me.”

“I enjoy Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale,” Agile counters, “because it’s gone through many iterative cycles to become something very refined.”

The bartender turns and thinks for a minute, grabs a glass, and returns with a beer that has just the right amount of head.

“What is it?” They ask.

“Left Hand Brewing Company,” the bartender replies. “It’s derived from water and ferments quickly so you can enjoy it even faster at a lower cost. It is developed through an iterative and experimental process that the employee-owned company takes great pride in. And lastly, it is one of the best sellers on tap, and gets my personal recommendation as a refreshing drink.”

“Delicious.” They all proclaim.


The story above is meant to illustrate a simple point: methodologies working together can produce a far more desirable result than those working separately.

Design thinking is all about looking at the broader context of a problem to seek out user insights and develop solutions to the true challenges facing both business and society.

Agile is about taking these challenge solutions forward through continuous experimentation and quickly delivering value directly to customers.

Lean tightens all of this up by focusing on how to operationalize these solutions so they can positively impact the most customers possible using the smallest amount of time and money.

All three have one extremely fundamental similarity: continuously improve whatever it is that you do as long as you have the end user in mind.

The end user mindset is one that is complimentary and contains many more similarities than differences between each. Design Thinking & Lean both encourage the “5 Whys” and “Observations” that bring you to the spot where work/impact occurs. Lean & Agile have an eye towards speed while removing unnecessary obstacles impeding rapid advancement of the user experience. Design Thinking & Agile both favor collaborative building and relationships.

While there are certainly differences between these methodologies, they do not collapse in light of each other. Rather, implementing the shared understanding and mindsets of each will help guide your team through successful product and service experiences that drive impact at all stages of the development lifecycle.

I invite you to explore these shared mindsets. And if you’d like to chat more about how these mesh together, I’d be happy to chat…over a nice Left Hand Brewing Company beer, of course.

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