Combine Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile. Beware of Waterfall in Disguise

A thought-provoking view on how 3, in themselves excellent concepts, combined can produce an opposite result than you were looking for in your Product Management approach.


Marty de Jonge

2 years ago | 3 min read

This Gartner diagram combining Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile possesses a danger. -

If you have been walking around in the world of Agile and Scrum for a while like me, you might have run into this Gartner (2016) diagram a few times before. At least I see it being used in presentations more and more often.

The diagram combines ideas from Design ThinkingLean Startup, and Agile, and to be honest, on the first impression I liked it. Looking at it the first time, I was really glad to see a major player like Garner embracing the combination of different approaches and practices instead of contrasting them.

With this first impression, I missed the underlying danger this diagram can provide when executed by inexperienced executors or could even be used (un)intentionally to make a charade of the organizational transition it is supposed to support and become a waterfall in disguise.

What’s wrong with it? image adapted by the author

Reading the diagram leads from ideation on the left to execution and delivery of the shippable product on the right. Being sliced into different phases it can give the executors of this overall process a misunderstood idea of a sequence of different sub-processes.

Each sub-process with its own specialists that work (all in their own silos) on internal feedback loops of continuous improvements. If the organization and implementation of this end-to-end process are set up wrong, only at the touchpoints there will be a collaboration between the sub-processes. Or even worse, the first sub-processes are staffed with“ Thinkers” and the last is staffed with “ Do-ers”.

3 pitfalls to a waterfall approach

  1. This gives the suggestion that the problem-solving phase can be done before execution and with that gives support to the typical waterfall paradigm of a big plan upfront.
  2. Working with functional silos, one for each sub-process associated with a different Agile approach, and hand-overs between them support a Waterfall approach.
  3. By choosing these specific approaches, (Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile), this view of Gartner can give the impression that just these (and only these) approaches will work out fine in every situation for every company. Something we can remember from waterfall lead projects. ( by the way, about choosing ‘Agile’ as a method I have specific objections that I will add at the bottom of this article.)
  4. How can the Scrum framework help?

    The fundamental unit of Scrum is a small team of people, a Scrum Team. The Scrum Team consists of one Scrum Master, one Product Owner, and Developers. Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies. It is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal.
    Scrum Teams are cross-functional, meaning the members have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint. They are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how.- Scrum Guide 2020
  • When working with Scrum, or any other applicable Agile practices that deliver the intended value, we work on discovery and understanding of the problems as a team together. Including all roles and disciplines. This co-evolution continues until a solution that answers the objective is jointly discovered and developed together.
  • Scrum promotes co-creation to minimize hands-over and delays, to take advantage of the diversity of ideas and multiplicity of points of view, and to enable fast feedback loops across functional silos and separate teams.
  • Lean and Agile suggest starting with Minimal Viable Products build by teams who are capable to build these features end-to-end. This approach will support continuously evolving and adapting the release of better products based on learning through experimentation, experience, and feedback.

Although an interesting idea, in my opinion, Design Thinking(DT), Lean startup(LS), and Agile can not be linked completely like shown in the diagram. In my perspective, in this diagram Agile is oversimplified as being a method.

Agile is just anything BUT a method or framework, it is a mindset in which every method or framework that is contributing to an environment of collaboration and communication is welcomed with open arms. In that context, DT and LS are two of the multiple ‘practices’ in the Agile toolkit. Two interesting and potentially very valuable tools, but that also counts for tools like Scrum, XP, DSDM, eg..


Created by

Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.







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