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What is lean project management & how to implement it

An intro into the lean project management methodology, plus templates and insights to get you started.
Lean project management is a methodology that provides a way for project managers to provide more value with less—less human effort, less budget, less equipment, less time, less resources—while maintaining or improving customer satisfaction.
Although the first application of lean approaches occurred in the manufacturing industry, it’s now a popular model used across various industries, including healthcare, software development, finance, aerospace, construction, and more.
Learn how lean principles are useful in project management, how to know whether to adopt lean project management in your team, and how to implement lean project management with Coda templates to eliminate inefficiencies in your team.

What is lean project management?

Lean project management is the process of applying lean manufacturing principles to projects within an organization. It’s a project management process that focuses on reducing waste, and it results in tangible results like reduced lead times, process improvement, and overall higher quality.
These principles of lean have Japanese origin as they were first used in the Toyota Production System (TPS) and were the pillar of Toyota’s Just-in-Time (JIT) production in the 1950s. Since then project teams in various industries have been using the lean model to improve processes.
For any definition of lean principles or lean project management to make sense, you need to understand these three Japanese words: Muda, Mura, and Muri.
Muda means “waste” and specifically includes any activity that uses resources without producing value. It covers seven types of wastes:
Unnecessary transportation - moving resources without generating value
Inventory - buying tools or supplies that exceed needs
Movement without purpose
Waiting - when tasks aren’t moving
Overproduction - exceeding demand more than or before it’s needed
Defects - not meeting customer requirements
Over-processing - double work
Mura translates as “unevenness” and is the root cause of Muda.
Muri means “overburden.” It implies the overburdening of operators or machines and appears in other industries as poor workplace organization, poorly trained staff, and poor maintenance.
Lean management principles are focused on the elimination of Muda, Mura, and Muri.
Organizations apply lean techniques to streamline their processes, eliminate rework, and ensure there’s minimum waste by continually improving the process.

Principles of lean and how they apply to project management

Lean has 5 core principles. In their book, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, J.P Womack and D.T Jones, founders of the , identified these principles as:
Specify value
Identify the Value Stream

Specify value

Value is the essential starting point for lean management. Although value is created by the producer, it can only be defined by the ultimate customer - value is everything the customer is willing to pay for.
Without providing value to customers, you’ve wasted resources creating the wrong product.
Value is best stated in customers’ words and proven by their actions. It’s important to evaluate the product or service from the customer’s point of view. Companies can learn what their customers value by asking for their feedback via polls, surveys, and interviews.

Identify the value stream

There are three critical management tasks of any business:
Problem-solving, which includes conception, detailed design, engineering, and production launch.
Information management, which includes order taking, scheduling, and delivery.
Physical transformation, where businesses transform raw materials into finished products or services.

Identifying the value stream includes eliminating any process that doesn’t add value. Value stream mapping is an important step because it saves costs, cuts wastes, and ensures faster delivery.


After specifying the value, identifying and mapping the value stream, and eliminating any wasteful processes, the next step is making the valuable processes flow unhindered.
Here project managers break down the process into stories, remove bottlenecks, redistribute the workload, reshuffle production steps, and address employee needs so that it’s in their best interest to make value flow.


One of the biggest advantages of getting flow right is that products that usually take months to create can be ready in weeks.
A by-product of faster production time is that shifting demand can be accommodated almost immediately—and this allows the customer pull the product from you. In other words, you can design, schedule, and create products/services when the customer wants them.
For projects, this means reduced inventory and work in progress, which in turn reduces waste and generates value.


As companies specify the value, identify the value stream, create continuous flow, and let customers pull value, the need for continuous improvement arises, and this is the heart of perfection.
Perfection is a continuous process and integrating constant improvement efforts into your value creation will optimize team performance, ensure project quality, and generate value.

Advantages of lean project management

Adopting lean management has created several advantages for companies across different industries. Here are some common advantages of a lean model:

Reduced costs

Lean project management focuses on maximizing value while minimizing wastes. By using lean, organizations can eliminate money-wasting processes, which helps to maximize profit. What is more, this reduced cost doesn’t come at the expense of quality: instead, lean increases overall quality.

Creates more value for customers

The lean model involves evaluating the product or service from the perspective of the customer. As such, lean project management helps product teams focus on the customer’s satisfaction when creating products and services that deliver value.

Constant improvement

The perfection principle ensures that companies using lean project management continually seek improvement. This focus on improvement adds value to the product and increases its quality. As you constantly improve, there’ll be fewer defects, and even if they occur, these defects can be easily eliminated.

How to use lean project management with your team

Is lean project management right for your project or team? While lean is great for many projects, it’s not a solution for all types of companies or teams.
To implement lean, there are two main things product managers need to keep in mind.

Use comparable benchmarks

As with other project management methodologies, it’s best to examine similar projects to understand the risks and challenges involved in your project. Benchmarks are important in lean because they are a verifiable way of validating production efficiency.

Seek expert advice

While lean project management helps in several ways, without expertise, your team is bound to make beginner mistakes. Many startups benefit from working in incubators and programs where they can receive useful advice and have progress reviewed.

Implement lean project management with these Coda templates

Here a few Coda templates to shortcut your lean project management and minimize time wasted.

Kanban board for lean project management

Lean focuses on how to reduce waste and eliminate processes that don’t add value. Work-in-progress is notorious in management for time-wasting. One approach to reducing this problem is to increase workflow transparency. With a transparent workflow, team members know the status of the project at all stages.
Kanban boards are arguably the most popular tool used to create transparent workflows. By using this , team members can see tasks in the backlog, which are priorities, and work-in-progress. They allow for better communication between and keep everyone on the same page throughout the project lifecycle.

Project plan to identify value

Identifying value is the first step of lean methodology and a project plan can help you with this step. Some advantages of developing this plan include:
Preventing scope creep
Ensure customer value is identified
Preventing missed deadlines
Minimizing stress
Ensuring the project is within your budget
This is an excellent tool for lean teams and makes it easier to create your project plan.

Resource utilization to establish pull

Aside from resource availability and allocation, resource utilization is one of the most important KPIs that project managers track.
However, many project managers have a tough time finding the right resource utilization metrics.
This makes it easy to track resource utilization.

Sprint retrospective to identify iteration opportunities

Lean management succeeds when your team constantly works on feedback from customers to improve.
Software teams find the sprint retrospective critical because it focuses on what went well and what can be improved for the next sprint.
takes the hard work out of writing sprint retrospective.
Sprint retrospective lean project management

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