REVIEW | Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking by Jeff Gothelf / Sense & Respond Press

This is a review of Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking by Jeff Gothelf from Sense & Respond Press. This post also appears on the listing for the book.

A Retrospective

Encountering such an ambitious title as “Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking”, I’ll readily admit that I brought a bit of my own baggage with me when I started reading it. I’ve worked in variations of all three disciplines in several enterprises and continue to incorporate all three into my work as a consultant today. Like the author, I have some opinions formed both by scars and successes, and was eager to read his take on it and compare it with my own.

The introduction of the book draws from one of Jeff’s own consulting experiences to map Lean to Product Managers, Agile to Tech/Engineers, and Design Thinking to Designers, illustrating how even the correct practice of each can pull an overall body of work in different directions. This set off a bit of a red flag for me because when I held the title “Digital Product Manager”, my job was to do Design Thinking (more so than Lean), to develop ever-so-valuable Customer Empathy into Agile Stories. However, the mapping of the roles to disciplines works well for the purposes of this book.

When approaching a business book I think it’s important to ask, “who is this written for?” - My takeaway is that it’s for the individual manager, or influential stakeholder on a team, who is likely already “doing Agile” and may be invovled with, or wondering about, Lean and/or Design Thinking. It isn’t going to help someone looking to get started fresh with one or more of these disciplines as much as it will someone who is already in the thick of it. That said, there’s a lot of wisdom presented that anyone starting out on a - what’s the most current buzzword? - Digital Transformation Journey, would be wise to heed.

As I started reading this book I imagined two directions it could go in, and I’ll share the one that it didn’t in case that’s what you’re looking for. The book does not try to define a process-driven approach of using the three disciplines and their component best practice methodologies with swim-lanes and flows that merge the inputs and outputs together and voila, great product and happy customers! This book takes an approach that will no doubt appeal to a broader audience: how does one synthesize the best things from the three disciplines and incorporate them into the workflow that can best be applied to their own practice?

I really enjoyed the concise, easily consumable format of the book. The timing of reading it right before the 2017 holidays is perfect too. This is the perfect kind of book to share with your colleagues and use to spark discussion about how to make the change you want to see in how you approach your work. I’m going to place another order for several copies to give away to clients and team members that I know will benefit from Jeff’s wisdom - and selfishly our collective working interactions will be improved. After all, that’s the point of a good retrospective, right?