Charlotte Davis

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What Is Lean Project Management Methodology & Its Principles

Welcome to an in-depth exploration of lean project management! If you already know a little about it, then you’ll probably learn a few new tricks. If, on the other hand, this concept is new to you, you probably would like to learn more. 

The basic definition of lean project management is that it’s a powerful approach to managing the development of a product or service. It’s supposed to reduce wasted time and increase efficiency. This article will provide an overview of the history and principles of lean project management. We hope that you can use this information to start transforming your approach to project management in your company, whether you’re a project manager or an executive-level manager.

Where Did Lean Project Management Methodology Come From?

using kanban-or-scrum methodology boards on screen

Lean methodology wasn’t all about white-collar projects. In fact, it was a manufacturing method developed in Japan, in the 1950s. Back then, Japan wasn’t the powerhouse it is now – they were trying to dig out of a deep economy hole, and their goals were set on doing it as quickly and most effectively as possible.

It all started at the Toyota Motor Corporation, which focused on improving production efficiency. Toyota implemented its production system, which is now known as the Toyota Production System (TPS) or Lean Manufacturing. The goal was to eliminate waste – and by eliminating waste, it eliminated any chance that too much money would be spent on resources. This was so effective that project managers around the world adopted it – and now, we think of it in terms of tech companies, software development, and their continuous improvement.

Starting With Lean – Goals and Objectives

As with any type of project management, let’s start things from scratch. But when it comes to lean project management, the focus is on eliminating waste and maximizing efficiency from the very beginning of the project process. Remember – it’s all about waste management.

Think about lean principles like managing your refrigerator, where eating “lean” means trying to plan your shopping so that you don’t waste any food. So you buy less, more often, and manage your portions better.

Lean project management is different from other project management methods because it emphasizes speed and agility over very controlled planning and the need for control. It all starts by thinking about the customer’s needs and wants because in Lean, these are the first and foremost goals.

This helps to create a clear goal and vision for the project because it concentrates on the point of it all – and eliminates waste. Once the goal and vision are set, objectives need to be established that will help to achieve the goal.

Like in many cases of project management techniques, the goals should be specific and measurable, and they should be organized into small, achievable steps.

The next step in lean project management is to develop an implementation plan. This plan should include specific activities and tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve the goals and objectives with a well-thought-through timeline. You should make sure to include most of your team, or at least seniors, in the project. They will help you estimate the timeline better.

Finally, the project should be monitored and evaluated so that progress should be tracked and reported on regularly. Depending on the project, you can choose to have monthly, weekly or even daily meetings.

If you need to make any changes, you should implement them quickly and effectively, like with Agile methodology. This continuous improvement cycle is essential for successful lean project management. Remember that in comparison to other project management methods, lean project management is focused on eliminating waste and maximizing efficiency.

What Are the Lean Methodology Principles?

The Lean Methodology does have official principles – like any other project management system.

1. Define Value To better understand the first principle of defining customer value, it is important to understand what value is. Value is what the customer is willing to pay for. It is paramount to discover the actual or latent needs of the customer. 

Sometimes customers may not know what they want or are unable to articulate it. This is especially common when it comes to novel products or technologies. There are many techniques, like interviews, surveys, demographic information, and web analytics, that can help you see what customers find valuable. By using these techniques, you can uncover what customers want, how they want the product or service to be delivered, and the price that they can afford.

2. Map the Value Stream: The second Lean principle is identifying and mapping the value stream. In this step, the goal is to use the customer’s value as a reference point and identify all the activities that contribute to these values. Activities that do not add value to the end customer are considered waste. The waste can be broken into two categories: non-value added but necessary and non-value and unnecessary. 

As you can probably guess, the latter is pure waste and should be eliminated, while the former should be reduced as much as possible. By reducing and eliminating unnecessary processes or steps, you can ensure that customers are getting exactly what they want while at the same time reducing the cost of producing that product or service.

3. Create Flow: After removing the wastes from the value stream, the following action is to ensure that the flow of the remaining steps run smoothly without interruptions or delays. Some strategies for ensuring that value-adding activities flow smoothly include: breaking down steps, reconfiguring the production steps, leveling out the workload, creating cross-functional departments, and training employees to be multi-skilled and adaptive.

4. Establish Pull: Inventory is considered one of the biggest wastes in any production system. The goal of a pull-based system is to limit inventory and work-in-process (WIP) items while ensuring that the requisite materials and information are available for a smooth flow of work. Pull-based systems are always created from the needs of the end customers. By following the value stream and working backward through the production system, you can ensure that the products produced will be able to satisfy the needs of customers.

5. Pursue Perfection Wastes: are prevented through the achievement of the first four steps:

1) identifying value,

2) mapping value stream,

3) creating flow, and

4) adopting a pull system.

However, the fifth step of pursuing perfection is the most important among them all. It makes Lean thinking and continuous process improvement a part of the organizational culture. Every employee should strive towards perfection while delivering products based on customer needs.

The company should be a learning organization and always find ways to get a little better each and every day.

Lean allows managers to discover inefficiencies in their organization and deliver better value to customers and make the products and the project management process most profitable to them. All in all, this is the most “down to the point” system of them all.

Lean Project Management and Agile

A lot of people confuse Lean Project Management with Agile. They do have some things in common, but they are definitely not the same.

Agile – the focus here is flexibility and the ability to change project parameters quickly. Of course, if we think about it, Agile isn’t always waste-free, and although it has some similarities, the lean approach is completely different.

Lean project management approach – it focuses solely on eliminating waste and maximizing the use of resources. Agile doesn’t always do that.

Here is a list that will help you figure out the differences between Agile and Lean:

1. Agile focuses on iterative delivery and continuous improvement, and Lean focuses on the continuous delivery of value. Improvement stream vs. value stream – it seems like the Agile methodology is more like “it’s not about the goal, but about the journey.” We’re not saying that’s BAD, but it’s just not very lean.

2. Agile encourages collaboration and a team-oriented approach, while Lean emphasizes an individual-based approach. This might seem undemocratic, but it’s meant to be like that. Lean thinking emphasizes quick decision-making, not wide collaboration, which can waste time. Lean also values customer value instead of customer input and changing project parameters.

3. Agile is all about short sprints and frequent releases, and Lean emphasizes long-term planning. What’s better? Again, it all depends on the project and the customer because, in the end, it’s all about customer satisfaction, isn’t it?

4. Agile focuses on delivering working software, while Lean focuses on delivering business value.

How Is Lean Project Management Defined and Regulated?

The PMI (Project Management Institute) is an international non-profit professional organization that has helped to advance global project management since 1969. It includes 185 countries and provides many project management tools for project managers, not only for lean methodology but for all types of project management methodologies. PMI offers networking, education, advocacy, and standards in the field of project management, as well as courses and professional certifications.

Today, they also provide official standards for Lean Project Management. All sorts of organizations use their resources to better their value stream and review their lean core principles – in short, they provide lean project management tools in order to help all sorts of organizations introduce and keep lean project management principles alive in their organizations. Some companies pay for PMI certificates and training for their project managers.

Lean Tools and Techniques

There are some basic tools and techniques and project management software used by managers who work with lean principles. They help to keep track of the process and are aimed at eliminating waste and focusing on organizing work using tools developed especially for this process, or ones that match the goals of the Lean Project Management strategy. 

1. Value Stream Map 

A value stream map is a visual tool used to track the flow of materials and information from beginning to end. It also helps identify areas of waste and improvement opportunities.

But how? A Value Stream Map is a pictorial representation of the workflow of a process from start to finish – that’s why it’s called a map. It literally maps out the project from start to finish – like a journey. Sometimes, when you see a project journey visually, it’s easy to pinpoint the weak points before they happen.

To make a Value Stream Map, you have to sketch out the processes involved in the project and the time required for each step, a timeline, and a time frame for each step of the journey. This way, you’ll be likely to see a lot of problems and weak points before they happen.

2. Kanban Board 

Most of us know kanban boards – they’re visual tools used to manage the flow of tasks and projects. From to-do, to in progress, to do. Some project managers are known to use post-its for this process, but we suggest using software, as it’s less likely to unglue tasks from the wall and send them sailing to the floor.

Kanban boards help keep track of the processes and identify the immediate priorities.

4. Scrum 

Scrum is a project management approach that focuses on delivering value through incremental development cycles. Although a lot of people associate this process with Agile, it can be used for other project management methodologies too.

5. Lean Six Sigma 

Six Sigma was actually created in the 1980s by Motorola to compete with the Lean Management Methodology. At some point in the early 2000s, they merged together to create a system that is based on both Six Sigma and lean principles. 

This included the waste-not-want-not principles of lean project management but also Six Sigma’s unique approach to eliminating defects in the projects and streamlining the process in order to eliminate anything that was defective from “littering” the project and product pipelines.

six sigma model

Can You Improve the Lean Process with Agile Principles?

Agile is definitely the winning system, and it’s hard to steer people away from the mind frame of continuous improvement. After all, it sounds so good, doesn’t it? But can you actually combine the two?

Yes, it is possible to combine both methodologies if you’re careful about it. Both methods can work together to provide a comprehensive approach to project management.

Agile focuses on responding to change quickly, while lean emphasizes efficiency and streamlining processes. When incorporated together, Agile and Lean Management can help to ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.

Now, for the hard parts: there can be some difficulties when combining the two methods. For example, Agile emphasizes flexibility and experimentation, while lean focuses on streamlining and eliminating waste. How can these two work together?

This can make it difficult to find the right balance between the two because Agile focuses on short-term results, while lean emphasizes long-term goals. This can lead to conflicting objectives, which can be difficult to manage. But a lot of companies have proven that it’s possible.

Why? Because clients often want the two goals that these management systems provide. This means that they want both waste elimination and the ability to change the project process or goals in the middle of it.

Lean management and agile both emphasize the use of teams to complete tasks and processes more efficiently and effectively. Lean management uses work cells, which are teams of workers who collaborate to complete tasks. Agile also relies on cross-functional teams and flow-to-work pools, as both systems strive to reduce delays in the completion of processes. So even though the goals are different, the processes can be very similar.

In some cases, the two systems utilize similar approaches with a different names. More and more companies across the world use this combination to maximize productivity and results – they often call it “leagile.”

How Do I Start with Lean Project Management?

If you’re thinking of testing out lean project management in your project or team, go slowly. Don’t do it company-wide right from the start, especially if you’re managing many projects and teams. This can turn chaotic very quickly. You should test a team first to see if your company culture and types of projects fit this management type.
Here are seven steps to introducing Lean Project Methodology to your team:

  1. Educate the Team

    Provide training and resources to help the team understand the basics of Lean Project Management, such as the principles, processes, and tools. You can use outside resources to accomplish this, like certification programs from the PMI, they are the best source for this kind of project management education.

  2. Set Goals

    Define the project’s objectives, success criteria, and milestones to track progress. Most importantly, define what “done” means for each milestone.

  3. Write a Project Plan

    Develop a project timeline with tasks and deliverables to keep the team focused on the goal.

  4. Streamline Your Processes

    Identify and eliminate waste by streamlining processes and procedures. Use the tools we talked about before – especially ones that include visualizing your process in order to see the weak points.

  5. Monitor Progress

    Establish a system to monitor progress regularly and take corrective action when needed. This is true of both systems, and it’s a “must” in all project management systems.

  6. Embrace Change

    Encourage team members to embrace change and be open to new ideas. Some people don’t really like change that much, and if they feel ‘forced’ into a system that intimidates them, you’re bound to have problems down the line. This comes down to mentoring and counseling as well as educating team members.

  7. Measure Results

    Track progress, adjust processes, and measure results to ensure continuous improvement. This is a bit different than tracking progress. Progress is project progress, and results are what you’re left with – they’re the endpoints of different project parts.

Final Thoughts on Lean Project Management

Lean Project Management methodology is an effective way to deliver projects in a timely, cost-efficient manner because its main focus is to eliminate waste in the system.

It also engages clients and stakeholders because it focuses more on their goals. You should consider this methodology even if you’re using other ones now – like Waterfall or Agile. The best principles of Lean can be combined with other methods to create hybrids in order to help them achieve a less wasteful and more profit-oriented project management system.

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