Lean project management is a methodology that provides a way for project managers to provide more value with less—less human effort, less funds, less equipment, less time, less resources—while maintaining or even 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.
In this doc, we draw attention to 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.
To begin, let’s consider the origins and meaning of the lean model.
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.
How do these three terms tie back to lean management? Lean management principles are completely focused on the elimination of Muda, Mura, and Muri. And you can consider lean thinking as the antidote to these wastes.
Organizations working on different projects to create products and services via several processes need to apply lean techniques to streamline their processes, eliminate rework, and ensure there’s a 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
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. In simple terms, value is everything the customer is willing to pay for.
Without providing value to customers, your product is rubbish. No matter how excited your team and stakeholders are about creating a product or service, if the customer doesn’t find it valuable, you’ve just wasted resources creating the wrong product.
So how can project managers identify value? By asking the customer. Value is best stated in customers’ words and proven by their actions. And it’s important to evaluate the product/service from the customer’s point of view, not that of the producers. That way, teams can better understand what will create value for the customer.
To avoid wasting everyone’s time, good communication between the producer and customer is vital. This communication can take the form of polls, surveys, and interviews and is essential for companies building new products where customers can’t decide on their requirements.
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.
The value stream refers to all the actions needed to bring the product/service through the tasks described above. Identifying the value stream involves clarifying the value stream process and 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.
Ensuring a continuous workflow ensures resources are used efficiently and results in an overall stable process.
One of the biggest advantages of getting flow right is that the time required to create your service or product falls dramatically. Products that usually might 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:
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
As we’ve discussed, the lean model involves evaluating the product/service from the perspective of the customer. As such, lean project management helps product teams focus on the customer’s satisfaction when creating products/services that deliver value.
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.
Increased employee engagement
Employees feel disengaged when their job doesn’t stimulate or challenge them to be better. Therefore, lean’s obsession with continuous improvement leads to more engaged employees since it encourages them to take the initiative and rectify issues that affect performance and value production.
How to use lean project management with your team
Is lean project management right for your project/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 (like micromanagement and poor communication) repeatedly. That’s why 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. A project plan is an essential element of success in project management. Some advantages of developing this plan include:
takes the hard work out of writing sprint retrospective.
Other lean project management tools that can help you are:
Lean project management FAQs
What are the 5 lean principles?
The 5 core lean principles are:
Create a value stream
Is the lean methodology appropriate for every project?
No. While lean methodology is great, it’s not right for all projects. Some projects that are better off without lean include projects that:
Target businesses undergoing major change
Don’t have a senior leader reviewing progress
What is the difference between lean project management and agile project management?
Lean is best when a project has a fixed set of resources and clear scope but faces uncertainty about the technical needs to achieve the scope. On the other hand, Agile project management is best for projects with uncertainty about the business needs that will achieve the customer’s business goal.