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Beyond Agile: Adopting a Lean-Agile Mindset

Agile methodologies have revolutionized software development in the last two decades, and since 2010 they have become the standard approach for the creation of digital solutions. The benefits of Agile development practices are by now well acknowledged:

  • 18-20% improved time to market
  • 14-95% improved productivity
  • 7-29% reduction in costs
  • 20-40% increase in employee satisfaction1

At the team level, Agile best practices provide teams with the mindset to achieve high levels of productivity and flexibility. Many different Agile methodologies exist, from Scrum to Extreme Programming, but they all embody the basic tenets of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan2

But Agile alone is insufficient for scaling Agile across an entire organization. A more holistic understanding of how value is delivered in an organization is needed to maximize flow across multiple parts of an organization, and Lean product development thinking provides a means for identifying and correcting bottlenecks in an organization. Lean thinking provides organizations with the tools they need to scale Agile beyond individual development teams to the entire enterprise.

According to Rally Software, its customers see a 50% increase in time to market and a 25% increase in productivity when using a Lean-Agile hybrid instead of Agile alone.3

The goal of Lean-thinking, originally developed from Toyota manufacturing practices in the 1970s, is to improve the lead time and sustainability of value creation within an organization. To this end, it focuses on how value creation works across an entire organization, not just development teams. Wasteful activities that hamper the creation of value for customers are removed. For example, an individual Agile team may be high performing, but it may lack the infrastructure to quickly release its code, or it may be dependent on a product owner that does not have the capacity or decision-making authority to deliver timely requirements to the team.

Are you going beyond Agile, and adopting a Lean-Agile mindset? Here’s a quick checklist to see how Lean-Agile you are…

4 Practices Embraced by a Truly Lean-Agile Organization

  1. Small Agile Teams – Typically using the Scrum development methodology, small Agile teams are the building blocks of a Lean-Agile organization. In general, teams follow such Scrum best practices as daily standups, timeboxed development sprints, and regular planning and demo rituals. They may employ different methodologies, including Kanban, depending on the nature of their work.
  2. Systems Thinking – Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how all parts of a system fit together, and an understanding of how all teams and subsystems influence each other. This is needed to ensure that they are working towards the same end and that friction points are mitigated. Frameworks such as SAFe can provide a larger organizational structure, as well as rituals such as Program-level team planning that facilitate a systems-wide view.
  3. Validated Learning – Organizations that embrace Lean-thinking not only to identify waste in the development process but also to minimize wasteful investments in ideas that do not provide value to customers. To this end, Lean organizations treat all business activities as experiments that are subject to repeated Build-Measure-Learn cycles that iteratively validate direction. These cycles often begin with the implementation of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Once the MVP is released to customers, the reaction is measured. When such experiments start to yield diminishing returns, it’s time to pivot to whatever new approach is suggested by findings.
  4. Lean-Agile Leadership – Leadership at all levels of an organization must exhibit Lean and Agile values, including servant leadership, respect for all team members, and a focus on sustainability. The primary causes of failed Agile projects are often a lack of management support and company cultures that are at odds with core Agile values.4 In successful organizations, all leadership, up to and including the C-level, are trained in Lean and Agile.

At the end of the day, Agile development teams are the foundation of any successful digital organization, and Agile practices like incremental planning and timeboxed sprints can result in impressive improvements in productivity, time to market, and employee morale. However, the true benefits of Agile cannot be realized until Lean product development thinking is used to scale Agile throughout an organization, removing barriers that impede individual Agile teams, and iteratively validating product ideas. A Lean-Agile mindset that unifies Agile and Lean practices are championed by an organization’s leadership and is a crucial prerequisite to finding success as a digital organization.

Going beyond Agile, and adopting a Lean-Agile mindset is one of a set of eight mindsets that, when combined, create what we believe is an organization operating in its ideal digital state. These mindsets (Value-Driven, Innovation, Experience, Lean-Agile, Culturally Responsive, Data-Driven, Continuous Delivery, and Operational Experience) are the foundation of the Digital Continuum. The Digital Continuum is our revolutionary answer to bring companies into the digital world and ultimately drive significant business value. Look for the release very soon!