Continuous improvement methodologies come in different shapes and sizes. In this article, we will briefly discuss the similarities and differences between two of these methods, Lean and Scrum. The solution to every problem has a preferred tool, so the first step to achieving success is choosing the right tool. However, Lean and Scrum cannot be considered simply as tools, but rather methods, or according to the Scrum definition, frameworks for continuous improvement.
Which one fits best, Lean or Scrum?
In manufacturing environments, Lean is the preferrred method of choice. What makes Lean more suitable for manufacturing is that it is a simple environment, simple in the sense that more is known than unknown. Today’s manufacturing sites are closer to complicated environments, as underlying root causes are not always evident. Scrum came to life in the software development world, with a complex framework with the issue of unpredictability being common. The right understanding of the domain we are working in is the key element to decide if we adopt the rules of Scrum or Lean.
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What are the common features?
Both methods have similarities and both support the notion of working in small batches. In Lean, the one piece flow is a desired state and in Scrum sprints, the outputs are increments of the product feature. Both are items that can be delivered to the customer. Both methods allow learning from errors – the lessons learned from Lean practice and the two feedback loops, sprint and retrospective reviews in Scrum. Daily tracking of activities is also a common feature; the daily Scrum or Lean daily management are analogous to each. Both systems are based on transparency, fast response and continuous improvement.
The main differences come from the applications that these methods are intended for. Lean has a large toolbox with very well-defined tools suitable for each issue (e.g. for reducing changeovers, SMED is the tool to use). Scrum tools cannot be so precisely defined. Scrum has a number of artifacts such as the product backlog that contains the product features ordered. This does not make sense in a manufacturing environment where all features of the product have to be delivered at the same time.
Some years ago, a new discipline was born called transactional Lean or Lean for services. After years of successful application of Lean in manufacturing, the logical step was to apply the principles and adapt the tools to work with functions such as sales, finance, human resources and R&D. Similarly, the initial application of Scrum was for software development where it is now being applied to new product introduction or product development. As a result, Scrum and Lean are quite likely to converge – an interesting phenomenon to follow in the coming years
In summary, both Lean and Scrum are levers to drive cultural change. Whichever method used, the final goal is to create a continuous improvement culture. Once realized, the company can find significant benefits. Coaching and developing our people is a key factor to success, and both methods greatly contribute to this.