Embracing Lean Project Management
Lean is built upon the principle of making numerous small, but continuous improvements, or kaizen, in Japanese. Lean as a methodology began in Japan at a Toyota automobile manufacturing plant. Although on the surface manufacturing and project management do not appear very similar, there are concepts of Lean that can be applied to the project management process, including:
- defining the value (for the client/customer)
- eliminating waste
- correcting defects early in the process
Lean project management can be thought of as an approach of maximizing effectiveness by eliminating unnecessary or wasteful steps in processes.
A New Way of Thinking
To be implemented effectively, the idea of Lean has to be supported from the management team and embraced by the project practitioners. Unlike many methodologies, Lean is more than just a set of tools; it is a change in how people think about the project process.
The primary goals of Lean are to:
- Improve quality
- Eliminate waste
- Reduce lead or cycle times
- Reduce total costs
However, from a project manager's perspective, Lean is more about project team dynamics, process change and continuous improvement. Traditional project goals center on timely completion, meeting performance requirements and most significantly, being on or under budget.
"Say Goodbye to the Weakest Link"
When looking at a project as a Lean Value Stream, the project becomes a chain of processes with a set of defined activities that have inputs, processing and outputs. The key to project success becomes looking for weak links in the chain of processes. By exposing wasteful practices within the project lifecycle, the project manager eliminates bottlenecks within teams and is able to build productive processes. Because each project stakeholder is very clear as to what their role is, the work breakdown structures and RASIC charts become the primary governance tools for a Lean project manager.
The goal of applying Lean to project management therefore, is to reduce the amount of time required to complete projects by eliminating wasteful activities and increasing the amount of time spent on value added tasks. Thus creating more value for the customer at lower costs and the benefits from the project are realized sooner.
Less is More
We recently created a Lean Value Stream Deployment toolkit for one of our clients that consisted of simple visual charts and graphs that were easy to create and rapidly update. The charts contained only the essential information, with no excess data to de-focus the stakeholders.
- Timelines instead of GANTT charts
- Simplified metrics (Baseline, Pilot results, Target Goals, Adoption rates)
- Summary Tables and Graphs (dashboards) instead of detailed data tables
- Issues and Risks logs rather than task lists
- Financials (Investment and Savings Run Rates)
Although the term "Lean" implies less, by employing Lean techniques there is actually more attention paid to what is important to the project and the customer; quality results with less waste and more return on investment.