What is Lean Project Management?

The last two years have put companies and their organizational and management methods to the test. They have had to adapt quickly to a remote and mixed mode of work, to get used to managing from afar, to trust, to delegate, to maintain team cohesion.

Companies were thus able to test their ability to question their past operating methods and to adapt. No company can say that it will go back to the "world before", as these two years have brutally and profoundly changed working habits.

So, how do we juggle the new aspirations of employees, the concerns of managers and the imperatives of corporate performance?

Some organizations are returning to their previous ways of doing things, while others are trying out new management methods. It is also possible to explore older methodologies that are still relevant today. “Lean Management" is one of them.

What is Lean Project Management, and why become agile?

Between 1948 and 1975, Japanese engineers working at Toyota invented the Toyota Production System (TPS), which inspired the Lean methodology we know today. The TPS was designed to facilitate production and improve relations between suppliers and customers, while eliminating waste.

In his book "The Toyota Way", Dr. Jeffrey K. Liker describes the principles of lean management and explains how companies can adapt the TPS to other sectors, knowing that in project management, the lean method enables them to fight against any type of waste.

In order to achieve the objectives set out above, it is necessary to establish the guiding principles.

What are the principles of Lean project management?

There are five of them. These five principles have been established with a view to obtaining maximum customer satisfaction. Are you looking to reduce product waste, stay within your project scope and achieve your key success factors? Follow the steps below to get there!

The 5 principles of lean project management

1. Identification of the value of the product

The first essential principle in the Lean project management process: identify the value of your product. To do this, you must already know your stakeholder(s), whether they are internal stakeholders for whom you produce project deliverables or customers, i.e. external stakeholders.

  • Internal stakeholders have a vested interest in the success of your project, which is why they monitor its progress.
  • External stakeholders are the customers who want to buy the product or service, and therefore have a say in its quality.

2. Value Stream Mapping

Another key principle of Lean project management is Value Stream Mapping (VSM), a visual tool that allows you to diagram your current process and your ideal process from project start to finish.

You can then compare the two processes in order to identify the waste to be eliminated during each phase of the project management and thus maximize its efficiency.

Toyota has identified several types of waste that can be identified through the VSM. These apply to lean manufacturing, but we give you a general equivalent in other sectors in brackets:

  • Overproduction (unnecessary features): Overproduction and unnecessary software features can drive up costs, including increased storage requirements, wasted materials, and unnecessary inventory.
  • Inventory (poor backlog management): Wasteful inventory and incomplete work, as well as poor backlog management, can lead to unnecessary costs. This is due to the need to store inventory, transportation costs and other additional costs required to complete the work.
  • Movement (multi-tasking approach): This type of waste is related to unnecessary movement of people or machines. It takes the form of redundant processes as well as an overabundance of business applications. On average, a knowledge worker switches between 10 applications up to 25 times a day. In addition, more than a third (27%) report missing messages and tasks because of this back-and-forth between applications.
  • Defects (technical debt): Defects can lead to costly repairs and lost materials. And technical debt can cost you valuable time.
  • Unnecessary operations (expensive tools): these can also lead to unnecessary costs, for example when you propose an unnecessary update on a product, because you don't meet the needs and demands of users. The same problem occurs when you invest in expensive tools that are not worth it.
  • Waiting: these are costs associated with delays in the production of final deliverables.
  • Transportation: Like unnecessary movement, too much movement of products or materials will result in waste.
  • Divided teams: between communication problems, unnecessary meetings and collaboration weaknesses, the lack of team cohesion can increase costs unnecessarily in many ways.

You will also note that the VSM is the most important step in Lean project management. Without it, you will not have the visibility to identify defects throughout the project lifecycle, and therefore will not be able to deliver a higher quality product to your customers.

3. Creating the process

This step will be an opportunity to get rid of the waste identified in step two, in order to redesign your project management plan to make it more efficient. To do this, you will break down all the product development steps and reorganize them as needed. You will also establish project milestones, which will act as checkpoints to ensure that no further waste occurs in the project's progress.

An example: let's say that in step two, you've identified a problem in the management of a backlog, as well as a delay in the schedule due to poor planning on the part of your team members. You'll need to figure out how to resolve these issues and get back to an optimal project plan.

To ensure that all your efforts are not in vain after this VSM, communicate openly with your team members. Once you have taken the time to identify waste and eliminate it, your colleagues will work hand-in-hand with the goal of combating any potential future inefficiencies or new waste.

4. Establishing a Pull System

This involves "pulling" work from one stage of the process to the next once the previous stage has been completed. This concept was developed in the production setting to help factories meet customer demands accurately, using a "just-in-time" inventory management system. However, it can also be useful in other industries, as it helps keep your process running smoothly.

An example of a Pull system in software development:
  1. The technical designer completes the task and indicates that the product is ready for verification.
  2. Once verification is complete, the coding phase can begin.
  3. Your coder completes the task and indicates that the product is ready for verification.
  4. Once verification is complete, the testing phase can begin.
  5. The product tester completes the task and indicates that the product is ready for a final check.
  6. You perform the final verification of the product.

Establishing a pull system can be beneficial to teams in any industry, as it ensures that work moves smoothly through the project lifecycle. Companies that create products for an end customer will achieve better results by using Pull signals to move up the production chain to produce only what the customer needs.

5. Continuous improvement

Lean project management is not a one-time event: it is an iterative process, the fifth principle of which is to strive for perfection by constantly improving your process.

 Whether your customer is an internal or external stakeholder, their demands will always change. Therefore, you will need to assess the value of your product and analyze your process for potential waste at regular intervals.

The application of the above principles aims to take full advantage of the benefits offered by the lean method of project management.

The advantages of Lean Management

There are major advantages that project managers will be able to observe by implementing Lean Management methods:

  • Focus: by applying the Lean methodology, you will be able to reduce waste. As a result, your staff will be able to focus on the activities that really add value.
  • Improved productivity and efficiency: employees who are dedicated to creating value will be more productive and efficient because they will not be distracted by unclear tasks.
  • Smarter process: by establishing a pull system, you will be able to provide work only when there is a real demand.
  • Better resource utilization: by basing your production on actual demand, you will be able to use only the resources you need, thus avoiding waste.

As a result, the company or project team that uses it will become much more flexible and able to respond to customer requirements much quicker. The principles of Lean Management will allow the project to better reach its deliverables, which will improve the overall performance of the project, one of the indicators of which will be a reduced cost in the different phases.

And to enjoy the full benefits that the Lean project management method offers, it is wise that it is supported by tools that make it more fluid.

The tools of Lean management

To improve the project execution process, you can use the following tools. In a context of continuous improvement, these tools will help your team to avoid waste, to gain efficiency and to offer more value to the client.

They are:

The PDCA cycle or Deming wheel

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle was originally a three-step problem-solving method created by Dr. Walter Shewart in the 1920s. Later, in the 1950's, Dr. W. Edwards Deming popularized a revised version, hence the name Deming wheel.

The PDCA cycle is divided into four steps:

  • Plan: analyze your process and identify any problems that need to be solved.
  • Do: Find solutions to these problems by analyzing relevant data and working with team members.
  • Check: Determine if the solutions you have implemented are effective and adjust your plan accordingly if necessary.
  • Act: Apply these updated solutions and learn from your actions.

The Deming Wheel is easily applicable to different organizational processes. If implemented properly, it can have a very positive impact on the value of your product.

The A3 report

The A3 report consists of 8 steps that follow one another. They are integrated into the Deming wheel, whose 4-phase cycle is part of a continuous improvement logic: Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).

 An A3 report is built as a team and not individually. It is a very visual support, whose standardized framework creates a favorable framework for analysis and synthesis, by leading everyone to focus on the essential. It is a clear reference point for teams, for each new project.

The Klaxoon Board

Board is the collaborative tool developed by Klaxoon to make teamwork even more efficient. In concrete terms, it takes the form of a digital whiteboard with infinite dimensions. In the specific case of the A3 report, whose very essence is to produce a concise work of reflection, contained in a limited format, this feature is certainly accessory. But Board has other advantages that you'll find hard to do without.

First, by being accessible at any time, both in a room and remotely, Board eliminates all time and space constraints for its users. If all or some of your team members cannot physically meet in a room to design an A3 report, the integrated video conferencing tool Live makes verbal exchanges possible. A team member who wants to lead the meeting can select the "follow me" synchronization tool, so that other participants can see in real time the areas of the Board on which he or she is focusing.

At certain stages, you will need to take a position on the proposed ideas. To decide democratically, use Question tool, by submitting a vote to the whole team: simple and effective! 

In the 4th step of the A3 report, you look for the root causes of a problem using the Ishikawa method (similar to the Fishbone template). To make the ideas flourish, there is nothing better than an ideation phase energized by a countdown, via the timer function!

Finally, in the 8th step, color your ideas according to the action to be implemented.

Is your A3 report ready to be sent? Just share the code or the link to access the Board. And if needed, you can also download all the data collected, in particular in .csv format. 

With this ready-to-use template, you have a complete framework to use the A3 report method. You can even easily make the necessary adjustments, depending on the specific use you wish to make of it. So let's get started!

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