In “Lean vs Agile vs Design Thinking”, Jeff Gothelf writes about these three methodologies and outlines how they work as there are valuable components in each.

You should choose the elements in each method that work well with your teams and the values your company is trying to convey.

Design thinking

Design thinking is a method that uses elements of a designer’s toolkit like empathy and prototyping to find innovative solutions to difficult problems. It consists of five steps: Empathize, Define, Prototype, Ideate and Test. Design thinking is better used when dealing with wicked problems because it frames them in a human-centred way, allowing designers to elaborate on what is most important for customers.

Lean UX

Lean UX is an iterative process that focuses on getting feedback as early as possible to ensure quick decision making. Lean UX is less about the deliverables, more about making the idea generation process more effective through the use of assumptions and hypothesis. Assumptions are ideas we think are true. They are designed to generate shared understanding that enables the team to get started. Some of the questions you can use to create assumptions are: “Who is the product for?”, “What are the most important functionalities?”, “When will the product be used?” Prioritise the ideas you generate during the brainstorming session by the risk they represent and the level of understanding of the issue in question. The second step is to form a hypothesis to test the assumptions. You start by explaining why the idea is important, followed by what you want to achieve. Finally, you think about what you would need to prove that the hypothesis is true. Working like this eliminates the doubt whether an idea is good or not.

The Minimum Viable Product is one of the central concepts in the Lean UX process. An MVP is the most basic representation of an idea used to test before developing further. If there are no valuable results from testing, the team abandons the idea and moves on to the next one.


Agile is a methodology that was initially used by software developers to plan the deliverables iteratively and incrementally. Opposed to the traditional “waterfall” method where teams plan the development process at the beginning of or before development, agile allows organisations to adapt to the market requirements. Agile is focused on driving results fast by limiting to stakeholder feedback.


Gothelf writes about the core practices from Design Thinking, Lean and Agile that cross-functional teams can integrate:

Work in short cycles

Since you don’t know how your clients are going to respond to change, making assumptions is risky. Delivering in small increments is a key concept in Agile and Lean. Present the project as an experiment and test it with a subset of your team. If the project fails, you haven’t spent too many resources, and you’ll take it as a learning experience. If it succeeds, keep the practice, improve it, scale it and apply it to more teams.

Work as one balanced team

Encourage your teams to work together. Cross-disciplinary teams formed of designers, engineers, and developers provide the expertise, perspective and skills sets needed to solve all aspects of a problem. The efforts of the team members have to be coordinated and targeted towards achieving the same goals. Balanced teams choose the best parts of Design Thinking, Lean and Agile and apply them as needed in their collaboration.

Prioritise product discovery and deliver work equally

“Work that can be visualised is work that gets done”. Every company that practices some form of Agile uses boards that support the team in visualising the work that gets done. Agile and Lean advocate continuous learning. Design Thinking focuses on learning as well, but there is no clear process or ritual linked to visualising learning. The delivery part of the process gets measured and executed. Agility is the key to building responsive teams and organisations.

Review your performance management criteria

This is one of the most important factors for ensuring that teams will choose the most effective combination of the three methodologies. If a company incentivises learning, teams will build better product discovery processes. If a company incentivises velocity, teams will increase the delivery speed of new products. If you want to strengthen collaboration and create a learning environment, employees will have to be assessed by their ability to build continuous learning into their work.

In conclusion, clients are less interested whether you use Design Thinking, Lean or Agile to manage your work processes. What matters is how you create products that solve problems effectively.