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vehicle, for example. Lean methods make it possible
for an organization to quickly and economically switch
between variants. Although a lean organization can
quickly develop a new product, however, it may still
take time to launch the product if the organization
must wait for new machines to be delivered.
An agile organization, on the other hand, can bring
a new product to market quickly after a team realizes
there is a potential demand for it. The team may be
empowered to kick off the initiative on its own without
waiting for executive approval, and a truly agile enter-
prise has a tolerance for failure so that the team is free
to take risks.
Agile enterprises also are better able to respond
to sudden changes in market demand, such as when
customers start to move away from a current product
or service.
It’s important to point out that an agile organization
may still face some of the same constraints as a lean
organization, such as when capital equipment must be

READER QUESTION OUR RESPONSE Lean has its origins A lean enterprise may have a traditional manage-
in manufacturing ment hierarchy while still being lean. In contrast, agile
What are the while agile started as a method for software enterprises grant employees far more decision-making
differences between development. Neither, however, is restricted authority. Both emphasize collaboration, though the
agile and lean only to its industry of origin. execution may differ.
enterprises? A lean enterprise, such as Toyota Motor Corp., Lean enterprises emphasize product flow whereas
seeks to eliminate “all the unnecessary time, agile enterprises eliminate unnecessary decision-mak-
effort, and error sources … for each family of ing steps. I once heard of an organization eliminating
products.”¹ An agile enterprise has a flat hierar- approval signatures as a lean improvement due to the
chy with empowered and self-organized teams waste created by having many people approve one
driving bottom-up innovation.² Both enterprises document. In lean, this is done to save money. In agile,
are flexible and have self-empowered teams, the signatures aren’t necessary because employees
but agile can more quickly respond to changes have the authority to make the decision on their own.
because it is bottom up.
Lean enterprises attempt to drive out waste, Better together
such as the waste of machine downtime due to Agile and lean enterprises aren’t the same—an organi-
waiting. Tooling in a press can be changed out zation can be lean and agile, and thereby achieve the
quickly using single-minute exchange of dies, benefits of both methods. The ability of a lean process
allowing different variations of a product to be to quickly switch to
produced. economically producing REFERENCES
a different product fits
1. James P. Womack and
Market demand well with agile’s flexibility Daniel T. Jones, Lean
Often, customers have many options to choose in offering new prod- Thinking: Banish Waste
from when ordering a product, such as a ucts. Lean enterprises and Create Wealth
in Your Corporation,
typically use just-in-time
Simon and Shuster Inc.,
production methods and 2003, p. 241.
maintain low inventory 2. Stephen Denning,
This response was written by levels, which is especially The Age of Agile: How
THE BELT Smart Companies
MATTHEW BARSALOU, certified advantageous when
Are Transforming the
Master Black Belt, Germany. suddenly switching to a Way Work Gets Done,
different product. AMACOM, 2018.

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November 2018   LEAN & SIX SIGMA REVIEW