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Agile, Lean and Design thinking could be deadly

A little bit of knowledge is dangerous!

These terms are used interchangeably by many people at all levels within organisations as they seek to explore, trial or implement new ways work can be undertaken.

For anybody who is confused, here is a summary and a *WARNING*.

Design Thinking

This is a great way to get closer to customers. What are the problems that the customer has? Design thinking is an obsession with identifying, framing and establishing solutions to problems.

Lean Start Up

Lean Start Up is a way to develop businesses and products without being wasteful. Frequent iteration is central to the process with the intent of meeting initial customer needs, reducing risks and avoiding considerable costs of traditional launches.


This refers to taking the software development process and applying this to other types of work. Often organisations confuse themselves with the term “being agile” and the “practice Agile”. Additionally, organisations may think if they “practice Agile”, they are indirectly also integrating Design Thinking and Lean Start Up. This is rarely the case and with large traditional organisations probably highly unlikely.

The “Practice of Agile” leverages the incremental development of software that emphasises.

  • Individual and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over following a plan.

The above is known as the Agile Manifesto set out in 2001 and it's great when applied appropriately.


“Agile” is now being overplayed by organisations as the path to reducing the risk of disruption. If you implement the “Agile” without understanding the pain points of customers and qualifying a business model, your organisation runs the risk of doing the same work in an “Agile” manner.

Consider a traditional company that has implemented being “Agile” at scale, however, continues to be eroded by the services and products of emerging competitors. The traditional organisation is potentially cycling through the wrong work in a more effective manner. How can you check, simply asking your “Agile” team about their “backlog”, is this more of the same? If it is, the traditional company’s situation could be exacerbated!

If it's not yet clear, “Agile” is not being agile, what? By having the practice of “Agile” within an organisation, teams are empowered to make decisions, however, this does not convert to being agile, that is, moving quickly and easily!

Jack Welch said being agile is: ‘An organisation’s ability to learn and translate those learnings into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.’


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