Lean project management is rooted in cost-saving manufacturing methodologies. The ultimate goal of lean methodology is to reduce waste. Companies in all industries have adopted lean principles into their own processes, but lean is most suited toward physical manufacturing, engineering and related industries.
Regardless of your company’s size or the activities of your organization, lean project management principles can be extraordinarily helpful in optimizing your everyday operations.
Below are the five core principles that guide lean thinking for project managers.
Defining the value of a given product is crucial. Before beginning any manufacturing project, or any project for that matter, the amount of value a finished product will generate must be assessed accurately. How much customers expect from a given product must also be ironed out.
Value questions that lean teams will ask:
- What do customers want?
- How will they benefit from our product?
- How much are they willing to pay for the benefits of our product?
Lean teams can, for example, estimate how much customers are willing to pay based on related data points, then set costs low enough to reach an agreeable price. The goal is to eliminate all waste in every process. Any area where value is not added—or worse, cost is exceeding value—must be addressed early on using lean management principles.
Map the Value Stream
The value is the end goal of the project. Once you’ve established value as a definite endpoint, you can begin mapping the way to get there (or value stream). Every single process and every single step involved in getting to the end product is part of the value stream. From gathering the materials needed for production to coordinating efforts with PR, every related process is represented in the value stream.
Kanban is one of the most popular ways to map value streams. Tasks are broken down and are posted in a “just-in-time” fashion. That way, each task is taken one at a time and only done when it is absolutely necessary to complete.
Using Kanban flowcharts and other diagrams, managers can set up visual aids for value streams, mapping every single step onto a single page. By mapping the flow of activities, lean project managers can easily identify waste and inefficiencies with the process, allowing them to ameliorate these issues swiftly.
By mapping the value stream, project managers can spot waste. Any tasks that are done too early, too late or too often creates waste. By analyzing the map and removing waste, lean project managers can create the optimal flow of activities.
Lean project managers check for possible bottlenecks and delays. If there are any inefficiencies present, tasks may have to be reordered. Sometimes, project managers may even decide to append value-adding tasks to improve processes.
Ideally, every step should flow into the other, beginning at the factory (or organization) and arriving smoothly as an end product to the customer.
Employ a Pull Approach
Many organizations use a push approach, stockpiling supplies in anticipation of demand. Lean organizations, however, employ a pull approach, wherein production increases as demand increases. Customers can “pull” directly from the manufacturer, getting what they need in an on-demand fashion.
The pull approach requires extremely accurate market research and exceptionally efficient dissemination of information within the organization. Also, all processes must be streamlined; otherwise, it will take too long to ramp up production to meet demand.
At its core, lean management is about continuous improvement. Lean management requires a thoughtful approach to every action. Optimization must be part of the corporate culture itself. Every member of the organization must be working toward removing waste, adding value and delivering quality. There is always room for improvement in lean organizations.
Lean organizations are removing waste. Lean project managers ensure that activities within the organization flow properly, without interruption, delays or bottlenecks.
Identifying value means finding out what your product will do and how much customers will pay for it. Value streams are then mapped, following every step in production. Project managers ensure that tasks flow and processes run smoothly. Market data is collected during development and these data points drive production. The most important principle that guides lean thinking is to seek perfection. The lean management philosophy demands a dedication to continual improvement.