Lean project management sounds like a brand-new concept when in actuality it’s been around for over 40 years. Until the 1990s, however, it was mostly applied in the manufacturing industry. Then it slowly took hold in construction projects. Now, fortunately for project managers across all sectors, the lean philosophy is more widespread and making a difference in all sectors that value customer service.
After the oil embargo hit in 1973, the Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan dealt with the sudden scarcity of resources by emphasizing three key areas in its operations strategy.
This management philosophy, known as the Toyota Production System (TPS), improved the customer experience because:
By taking an unprecedented step from mass to lean production, Toyota saw its manufacturing costs and lead time go down, and product quality and customer satisfaction go up. The result was a triumphant rise from smaller manufacturer to the world’s largest automaker.Continuously improve Eliminate inefficiencies Reduce waste Become a lean machine. Click To Tweet
When applied to project management, the lean philosophy makes it possible to use fewer resources to create more value for clients. There are different approaches, but the most common ones are:
These three lean methodologies, all of which emphasize quality and efficiency, are explained below.
Created by W. Edwards Deming, author of management guide Out of the Crisis, the Deming Cycle applies four specific phases to obtain consistent results. They are:
The Deming Cycle is particularly useful for manufacturing and construction projects because both industries follow a systemic production cycle. There is always an opportunity to learn from mistakes and develop safeguards to prevent them from happening again.
Kanban is Japanese for ‘card’ or ‘visual signal’. It uses compelling visual cues and representations to support better communication and collaboration on work streams during all phases of a project. Kanban also limits waste and improves value to clients by standardizing all workflows and eliminating guesswork.
When used in lean project management, the Kanban system categorizes each phase as one of the following:
Tasks are typically assigned using project management software that allows managers and team members to tag each change in task status. Kanban boards (Trello is a great example) are especially useful when reviewing a team’s current workload because they enable managers to reasonably estimate the effects that additional tasks would have on productivity.
Lean Six Sigma focuses on identifying the source of project management problems and eliminating waste of both time and resources. It has five phases, which are explained below.
Lean Six Sigma project management tools include:
Large-scale industrial projects often use Six Sigma manufacturing processes to identify and remove causes of production defects as well as measure overall team effectiveness.Plan. Do. Check. Act. Go lean or go home with these actionable insights Click To Tweet
If you and your current team have never used lean principles before, a learning and adjustment period is inevitable but it doesn’t have to cost money or affect the project deadline. Here are some implementation strategies.
Lean project management is about delivering usable value to clients, not complying with arbitrary time and cost parameters. It’s time to take a cue from the manufacturing industry and make value the ultimate goal of every project you manage.