In the book, “How Big Things Get Done”, authors Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner explain that 99.5% of big projects fail to deliver optimum results. Some of the significant factors that result in project failure are superficial project planning, focusing more on processes rather than the outcome, and insufficient resource planning. This leads to poor customer satisfaction and financial losses. Hence, organizations are integrating lean management approaches to optimize project management processes and deliver value to customers. Let’s see what is Lean management and its core principles.
What is Lean Management in Project Management?
Let’s understand in detail what is Lean management. Learning project management refers to integrating Lean principles such as Lean manufacturing, Lean design, and Lean thinking into project management. It is an approach that focuses on improving operational efficiency, adding value to the organization by increasing productivity, delivering better quality to customers, and reducing project costs. Moreover, it aims to minimize waste, mitigate project risks, and reduce project complexity. Lean management can be implemented by integrating technical and cultural tools in various project management processes.
Lean management has emerged from the Lean manufacturing concept included in the Toyota Production System. In Lean manufacturing, organizations manufacture products based on customer demand instead of mass production. It reduces inventory usage, cost, and waste production. Moreover, it boosts product quality, overall efficiency, and the value added per person.
Therefore, we can understand what is Lean management as a business approach, methodology, or philosophy that involves the implementation of Lean manufacturing principles in project management to enhance overall efficiency. It serves two key purposes—value enhancement and waste elimination.
How Can Lean Management Improve Project Efficiency?
The term “Lean” is derived from the Japanese word kaizen, which means continuous improvement of processes. Hence, what is Lean management can be defined as a management approach where leaders create an environment for continuous improvement and collaboration and thus boost efficiency.
Earlier, project management was often concerned with timely project completion and reducing costs. Project teams neglected the quality of work in the rush of getting the project completed. However, Lean project management ensures work efficiency and that customer’s needs are met. It combines project management and lean production strategies to deliver value to the customer. Moreover, the primary principle of Lean thinking is producing what is needed, when it is needed, and how much is needed. Hence, Lean project management ensures optimum utilization of resources and saves time. Therefore, it improves project efficiency.
What are the Key Principles of Lean Management?
The following are the five key principles to understand better what is Lean management:
1. Identifying Value
One of the key purposes of understanding and implementing what is Lean management is to offer value to the customers. Value can be defined as features or anything that generates customer satisfaction and for which the customer is willing to pay.
Therefore, Lean project management requires viewing the project from the customer’s lens. Project management teams should first identify their target customers and then define value by conducting surveys, interviews, or market research.
2. Value Stream Mapping
The value stream mapping principle involves mapping or visualizing the entire project workflow from the beginning to project completion. This enables project managers to identify all the steps that create value for the customers. Moreover, value stream mapping also helps identify redundant steps or waste that can be eliminated. Some of the common types of waste that organizations can eliminate are overproduction, unnecessarily switching between tasks, and overlap of processes or teams.
3. Setting up a Continuous Flow
Once different types of waste are identified, organizations need to set up an efficient workflow by breaking down the entire project plan into several steps. This principle also focuses on setting milestones to ensure productivity, distribute the workload, and remove friction.
4. Creating Pull
A pull system means just-in-time production of goods as per customer demands. This means linking production to real-time demand for products. Therefore, creating pull reduces overproduction and minimizes inventory usage.
In Lean project management, creating a pull system also means pulling the item from the previous step or working on the next step when there is a specific demand from the customer.
5. Continuous Process Improvement
This principle is the essence of what is Lean management. It explains that Lean management is an iterative process in which organizations should constantly evolve their processes to eliminate waste and integrate the ever-changing demands of customers. Moreover, continuous process improvement means striving for perfection.
What are the Benefits of Applying Lean Management in Project Management?
Let’s understand what is Lean management role in project management.
1. Boosts Overall Productivity and Efficiency
The most significant benefit of applying Lean management principles to project management is enhancing the overall productivity and efficiency of employees because of just-in-time production.
2. Waste Elimination
In Lean thinking, waste is referred to as any process that is redundant or does not add value to the project. Lean manufacturing focuses on three types of waste elimination—muda, muri, and mura. Muda means any useless step that does not add value. Muri means overburdening resources beyond their work capacity. Mura means irregularity of processes in project management. Therefore, Lean management principles aid in waste elimination, which ultimately supports organizations in offering better value to the customers.
3. Increases Competitive Advantage
Understanding what is Lean management in detail means realizing that it helps in the overall growth of an organization. It increases productivity, reduces costs, ensures faster and timely delivery of projects, and enables organizations to offer better value to customers, thus increasing customer satisfaction and retention. Lean management allows organizations to utilize resources, time, and finances more efficiently.
What are Some Practical Ways to Implement Lean Management in Projects?
Now that you have understood what Lean management is, let’s see how to implement it in projects:
1. Kanban Tools
These tools comprise a Kanban board for visualizing various steps of a project. As the project progresses, action items are moved from the to-do list to the in-progress and, ultimately, marked as completed. It helps find redundant steps and eliminate waste.
2. Lean Reporting
Successful project completion requires constant monitoring of processes and reporting results. Organizations can implement Lean reporting to track lead time, time to launch products to the market, resolution time, and other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
3. Lean Scheduling
Lean scheduling is another Lean philosophy that can be implemented for successful project management. It refers to the efficient planning of tasks to enhance workforce efficiency. Lean scheduling involves creating a detailed task list and allocating various actions to different team members rather than planning what is to be done at what stage. Therefore, it enhances transparency and boosts efficiency.
Efficient project management is crucial for organizations to gain a competitive edge in the age of rapid digital transformation and technological advancement. Hence, project managers must know Lean management principles to deliver the best quality to customers and navigate complexities. Emeritus’ online courses can help you learn what is Lean management, its core principles, and advanced project management techniques. Explore Emeritus’ online project management courses to upskill and grow your career as a project manager.
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