Have you experienced waste and inefficiencies when managing or participating on projects? If you have, you may have also wondered how to trim that project waste.
So, what’s the quickest way to shorten project duration, reduce quality defects and boost productivity levels? Go lean, says Lawrence Leach, PMP.
The founder of the Advanced Projects Institute, Boise, Idaho, USA, and the author of Lean Project Management: Eight Principles For Success [Booksurge Publishing, 2006], Mr. Leach has spent more than 30 years streamlining projects for both private and government entities. Taking a page from lean manufacturing – a strategy that eliminates waste and evens out workflow in production chains – lean project management helps projects run smoother by coordinating the human resources involved.
He says that many organizations start projects without considering whether they can actually complete them. With lean management, companies look at how they assign tasks, if they’re being clear about the priority of the tasks, and if they have everything they need to get the project done.
For project managers looking to take the lean approach, Mr. Leach says the process begins by checking for the basics. Before talking lean at all, companies need to have a work breakdown structure that details each task and who’s doing it.
Teams also need a schedule that identifies all human and physical resources necessary for each task and when handoffs between groups should occur.
Lean project management emphasizes the importance of focusing schedules on hand-offs from one resource to another, rather than on dates for individual tasks. Mr. Leach adds that companies that focus on task dates create because people who finish the task early don’t pass it on.
After there’s a reasonable schedule, you can begin trimming waste, Mr. Leach says. Look at each worker contributing to the project and create a list of prioritized tasks that each person needs to accomplish.
And since many projects involve multiple workers contributing to different parts of the project at different times, Mr. Leach recommends using a computerized system to record the start and completion date of each task and to automatically generate a daily updated list of priorities.
Once each worker knows what he or she is supposed to be doing, it’s up to management to clear out all other distractions, giving workers the focus they need to get the project completed on time. Convincing management to change their behavior, from multi-tasking on several projects to attacking one project at a time, will make lean project management successful, Mr. Leach notes.
“Sometimes managers argue that if workers have five tasks, they can be more efficient, but that’s a false efficiency,” Mr. Leach says. “Every time people move from one task to another, it causes errors and delays.”
Lean project management can be effective because it helps tighten up on those production delays by focusing workers on how they can most effectively contribute to completing a single project. When implemented correctly, Mr. Leach says that the lean method increases productivity on average 100 percent, reduces project duration an average of 30 percent, and reduces quality defects an average of 50 percent.
Despite the strategy’s dramatic results, Mr. Leach warns lean managers to expect flack from critics both inside and outside the organization who argue that focusing on one project at a time significantly slows the production chain. “About 10 percent to 30 percent of your workforce is only going to go along with it because they have no other choice,” he warns. “Part of being a successful lean manager is knowing how to deal with that.”
To quell the voice of dissent, Mr. Leach advises lean managers to focus on generating and promoting positive short-term results. The crowd will soon follow.
Thankfully, lean managers won’t have to wait long to get impressive results. Mr. Leach says to expect to see progress within a few months, sometimes weeks, of implementation.
I have seen the huge benefits that lean manufacturing brought to the factory floor, at my company. We are in the process of translating the lean management principles into the transactional and office space, including project management. I am excited to apply those principles and generate the benefits.
So, what do you think? Do you see the value in applying lean principles for project management?