July 23, 2019

Pair Together: Design Thinking, Lean Startup, & Agile

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In the past, when I considered Design Thinking, Lean Startup, or Agile as siloed methodologies each one lacked important aspects found in other method.

Instead it makes sense to show how these three methods can be integrated. Just like different legs of the same stool; it’s probably best to use 3 of 3 legs.


Design Thinking: works in close collaboration with the user to understand their pain points, problems, and potential solutions.

Lean Startup: emphasizes the need to test hypotheses via frequent experiments that reveal customer preferences and behaviour through objective metrics.

Agile Development: is a method of working in smaller batches with a focus on the highest priority tasks, and leading to shippable work.

Nicolò Mantini provides a good summary of these areas in more detail.

I’ve written a detailed summary on Eric Ries’ book Lean Startup here.


Gartner already drew a graphic, so I don’t have to, on how these methodologies integrate.

Diagram from  Gartner 2016
View fullsizeDiagram from Gartner 2016

I appreciate the caution that Marty de Jonge gives in interpreting the above diagram. The above diagram may lead some to suggest this work takes place by different teams each in their own silo, interacting only at the above touch points and hand-offs.

Instead, these three methods should be considered tools that can be used within the same cross-functional team.

As far as the ‘direction’ of the work, the Gartner diagram give too much of an impression that the process is left to right. Their 1 Generate, 2 Develop, 3 Transfer sequence implies agile is a final step…which I don’t think is correct. I see the movement between these as more as bidirectional between 1 and 2, and between 2 and 3, and between 1 and 3.


My main criticism of each method (that likely stems from my inexperience with these methods) is:

Design Thinking (and Human-Centred Design): always to me seemed better suited to incremental improvements, rather than producing logarithmic breakthroughs possible with more radical hypothesis. It also lacked the Lean Startup focus on more objective metric driven decisions to discover users true preferences.

Lean Startup: seems to lack a fully built out method for determining user’s problems, pain points, and collaborating with them in development.

Agile: speaks about focusing on the highest priority work, but it wasn’t clear the framework for discovering what is highest priority

Anticipated Feedback

Y is actually a subset of Z: when experts from one of these methodologies talk about their work, it seems they want subsume the other methodologies under their own as variations of different 'strategies or techniques'. But I will treat each methodology above as its own distinct domains.

What about Human-Centred Design?  For purpose of simplicity, in this case I’m lumping HCD under Design Thinking.  (Yes, I realize that Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking are different).

Related Post

The Lean Startup: Key themes from the book by Eric Ries

Lean Impact: how to innovate for radically greater social good (detailed summary)

Curious what Gartner says on this topic? I am too (but don't have access to their reports).

2016: Enterprise Architects Combine Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile to Drive Digital Innovation by Neil Osmond, David Norton, Marcus Blosch (link here).

2019: Enterprise Architects Combine Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile to Drive Digital Innovation by Saul Brand, Marcus Blosch, Neil Osmond (link here).

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