I was speaking to a GM friend the other day and they mentioned that they’ve moved away from agile and are now using more design thinking. It’s another post entirely to share what they meant when they said that–but the language itself is interesting. Lean, agile, devops, design thinking are all ways of working, all tools in your toolbox for creating a more successful business and happier humans. How do you use these tools together in your organization? How do you describe each and what they’re used for–and when? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

Have you ever ended up using the wrong tool for the job? Tried to use a drill (in reverse) to take a screw out of the wall… at first it sounds like you might be making some progress, and things are turning… but you quickly realize the screw is not coming out of the wall. It’s just spinning. (You probably need a pair of pliers.)

Businesses have some amazing tools in their ways of working toolbox these days: lean, agile, devops, design thinking. Like the physical world, you can pick up one of these useful tools that is not actually the one you need for the job at the moment. You can end up putting a business drill on a loose screw and making an even bigger hole in the wall if you’re not careful.

How (and When) to Use Each Tool
One of the most useful explanations I’ve found about when to apply modern ways of working is in Jonathon Smart’s book Better Value Sooner Safer Happier (BVSSH). He clearly defines lean, agile, and devops through both history and application in terms of problem domain using the cynefin framework… and then gives examples of when and where they could successfully be used in a business. (All in Chapter Zero. Brilliant.)

Quick excerpt (emphasis added): “Lean production (suited to knowable, repetitive work) seeks to minimize variability, striving for perfection, in some cases targeting Six Sigma levels of perfection. Agility (suited to unknowable unique work) actively seeks and benefits from variability with multiple minimally viable, safe-to-learn experiments in order to optimize for outcomes.”

The Right Tool for the Job, Right Now
Wonderfully, Jonathan also goes on to explain how work may move around domains in different stages of a product lifecycle:

Labels In Your Toolbox?
How do you define and use different ways of working to achieve better business outcomes and happier humans? Is this part of your regular onboarding, leadership development, or perhaps even just how you always speak about value and change?