Lean and Agile approaches are currently on everyone's lips. While Lean is still often associated with production optimization and the automotive industry, Agile appears to be closely linked to software development and IT. This understanding has, however, changed since Lean and Agile are successfully applied in areas such as Lean start-up, marketing and project management. In this blog, we would like to introduce you to both approaches and present a new learning model based on Lean and Agile or "Leagile Learning", which can be implemented quickly and efficiently.
Although Lean and Agile are usually presented and addressed as different approaches, they have much in common. If one begins to search for the source of Lean and Agile, it is found that the roots are closely interwoven and partly have the same origin.
Lean: Minimize waste and maximal (customer) value.
The Lean philosophy targets at avoiding any waste that does not contribute to customer value. Customer value is the added value provided by a specific product or service from a customer’s point of view. Applied to a physical product, customer value could refer to the expected product functionality or achieving a certain learning goal in case of a training. Thus, Lean is not about doing more in less time. Instead, it is about doing the right things with highest efficiency.
Lean was implemented for the first time by Toyota in the Toyota Production System.
Die The Japanese automotive group Toyota has made a significant contribution to the popularity of Lean. In the Toyota Production System (TPS) Lean elements were brought together into a holistic philosophy. However, many of these elements are much longer around than one might expect. For example, gondolas were already built in Venice at the end of the 19th century in a kind of production flow. Aspects of organizational culture, which play a prominent role at Lean, were first addressed by Edward Tylor in 1891.
Lean is based on principles and their implementation on soft factors.
The implementation of Lean is achieved by aligning behavior and processes to the principles of customer orientation, flow, synchronization and perfection. Other methods and tools such as visualization, target and deviation management as well as teamwork help organizations to anchor Lean into the corporate culture. Although methods and tools are the first to be mentioned at Lean, it is mainly soft factors such as motivation, competence and commitment that are decisive for success.
Agile allows for higher speed and efficiency in case of uncertainty.
Changes do not necessarily take place in stages, phases, steps or similar linear sequences. This is particularly true with a high degree of uncertainty and a complex environment. This constellation is to be found more frequently in practice than one would expect from the first impression. Examples are product development projects, the introduction of new IT systems and other resource and personnel-intensive change projects. The Agile approach is perfectly suited to successfully deal with such a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguity) environment. Due to the short-cycle succession of reflection, planning and conversion steps, adaptation and learning processes take place, which lead to an increased implementation speed and efficiency.
From John Boyd's OODA Loop and Toyota to SCRUM and Kanban.
Even before Agile approaches such as SCRUM and Kanban were used in the field of software development, the basic philosophy behind Agile has already been applied in the military field. John Boyd's Oberserve, Orient, Decide and Act Loop also called OODA Loop is, so to speak, the mother of all Agile approaches and was already used by the military to interpret aircraft in the 1960s. Later, the Agile Manifesto for software development and the introduction of SCRUM, inspired by Toyota's product development process, followed. The fact that the Agile philosophy shares many elements with Lean is reflected in the Agile method "Kanban", which is named after the production control concept of the same name.
Behind the Agile methods SCRUM and Kanban are essentially the same principles as Lean. The weighting, concrete implementation and naming of the principles is, however, different from Lean, since the focus is usually not on the production of physical products. Instead, Agile is concerned with dealing with uncertainty and complexity. The Lean Principles customer orientation, flow, synchronization and perfection play an equally important role.
"Soft factors" also play an important role in Agile implementation.
A package of tools supports the implementation of Agile in practice. Daily standups also called Daily Scrums are the counterpart to Shop Floor Management Meetings in the Lean world. The handling of work in progress (WIP) and its sequence planning in a backlog follows the Lean principles of synchronization and flow, which are reflected in FIFO buffers, supermarkets and the linking of workplaces. The soft factors are also particularly important in Agile. Team organization and autonomy (e.g. self-organizing teams) are key to deal with uncertainty and complexity. Strong teams that pull together constitute the backbone of any Agile approach. In addition to the advantages of a high level of motivation, teamwork makes it possible to better balance load peaks and reduce waste since project managers in a traditional sense are no more needed.
Leagile Learning: Lean and Agile can significantly alter and better learning.
What can be derived from Lean and Agile for learning processes in the sense of "leagile learning"? We believe that both approaches can make a major contribution to faster and more efficient learning. In the following, we present five principles which can be easily implemented in practice.
Leagile learning is learning with focus on concrete results. From a traditional point of view, learning is usually achieved by providing training sessions with a pre-defined content that targets at enhancing the trainee’s skills and competencies. As a consequence, emphasis is put on the process of content delivery neglecting the requirements of individual trainees. In the Lean and Agile world, on the contrary, it is not only about producing or programming. Instead, all activities are geared towards one goal: to increase customer value. This can also be applied to learning processes. Leagile Learning asks the question what has to be done in order to maximize the trainee’s benefit. This requires more flexibility in content definition, training structuring and content delivery. Self-organization, expectation management and agility in general are suitable to put more focus on value added driven learning.
Leagile Learning is learning in teams. Teams play an important role in both Lean and Agile. New insights from social psychology show that cooperation in groups can, under certain conditions, have a positive impact on the motivation of the group members. For instance, belonging to a group and feeling competent to contribute something satisfies two of our most important psychological needs: belongingness and competence. A third psychological need autonomy is the key for self-organization and thus coping with a VUCA environment. Scientific studies in the area of positive psychology recently revealed that moments of fun, excitement and surprise open-up our cognitive horizon which boosts learning and development.
Leagile learning is learning in iterations. Both Lean and Agile are about reducing Work in Progress to a minimum. This increases the efficiency and ensures that work is not done on topics that have already been overtaken by reality. In Leagile Learning, this can be implemented through the introduction of learning sprints. Similar to Lean (Takts) and Agile (Sprints), each learning sprint is concerned with reaching a certain intermediate destination. The length of the sprint can vary between two to four weeks and ends with a sprint change in line with Agile methodologies such as SCRUM. Each sprint change serves to reflect the achieved intermediate target and the learning process (double loop learning). As a result, the learning teams develop further and the learning transfer increases after each learning sprint.
Leagile Learning is learning with self-responsibility. Lean and Agile is closely linked to a culture of self-responsibility and efficacy. The challenging team goals can only be achieved when each and every single team member is engaged and contributing his/her share of knowledge, experience etc. to the group. The task of leadership at Lean and Agile is to create optimal conditions for self-responsibility as well as a culture of psychological safety and trust. When transferred to Leagile Learning, traditional experts, trainers and teachers are replaced by team moderators and facilitators. Their role is not primarily to convey knowledge but to provide impulses for knowledge creation and the framework for Agile learning.
Leagile Learning is learning to visualize and organize. Visualization and organizing plays a central role in both Lean and Agile. Shopfloormanagement boards, Kanban boards, floor markers, roles and rituals are simply visualized and arranged in teams. As soon as deviations become visible, the team is alerted and can counter-act together. Leagile Learning, which follows the principles presented so far, uses the possibilities of visualization in a similar way. For example, learning iterations can be decomposed into task packages that are visualized using a Kanban board. A clear definition and assignment of roles such as Learning Facilitator, Team Starter, Team Finisher etc. and corresponding responsibilities ensures that team expectations are transparent.
Lean and Agile approaches are used in more and more sectors and industries.
Organizations that are able to apply the underlying principles in the area of learning and development will gain a competitive advantage in our 21st century knowledge society. In this article, we presented an outline of a Leagile learning approach, its benefits and key principles that have to be taken into consideration when it is implemented. What is your experience with Lean and Agile in the area of learning? We are looking forward to hearing from you.
Markus is one of the founders of CQ and leads trainings in the area of Management and Mechanical Engineering. He holds a Master and Doctoral Degree in Economics and Computer Science from the Technical University of Vienna and a MSc in Organisational Behaviour from Birkbeck College, University of London. Being a dedicated "Knowledge Worker", Markus has continued his career with various private sector assignments in the management consulting, automotive and mechanical engineering industry.