What Is Lean Project Management? (2023)

Lean Project Management is the evidence that the Lean principles can find beneficial application in many areas.

Delivering value from your customer’s perspective, cutting down waste, and continuously improving help project managers increase their project efficiency and enable them to deliver more with less.

Whereas traditional project management is structured in phases, which separate planning from execution, Lean project management enables teams to deliver faster by managing their workflow efficiently and focuses on delivering value from the customers’ perspective.

To showcase how this works, let`s first look closer at Lean's basics and their role in managing projects.

Applying Lean in Project Management?

The birth of Lean Management can be tracked down to 1940, and in the past 80 years, it has become a universal management tool for work process optimization.

From Lean Manufacturing to The Lean Startup Movement, the core principles remain the same:
What Is Lean Project Management? (1)

1. Identify Value from Your Customers’ Perspective

In a nutshell, identifying value means working to deliver what your customers need instead of what they simply asked for. The value you are producing is inherited in the customers’ problem or pain.

Lean project managers identify and specify value from the customers’ perspective by identifying objectives, requirements, deliverables, and acceptance criteria. The value, or the end result of the project, is what the customer is willing to pay for. Preferably, it should be stated in the customers’ words and should come directly from him/her.

This is one of the main differences between Lean and traditional project management, where the focus is on the business case.

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What Is Lean Project Management? (2)Source:projectcartoon.com

Further on, in Lean, any activity that is not directed at solving the problem and delivering the project's end result is seen as wasted resources. To avoid building up waste, a close relationship and good communication with the customer is essential.

These will also help project managers to clarify requirements that may seem unclear at the beginning of the project. Or to resolve potential conflicts in the value statements with the collaboration of the customer.

Generally, focusing on identifying the value from your customers’ perspective will increase customer satisfaction, reduce project risk, and minimize project waste.

2.Value Stream Mapping

In traditional project management, the next step will be to create a project plan with a work breakdown structure and tasks. However, applying the Lean principles to project management means staying focused on the value.

The next step here will be to create a value stream map. The goal of the map is to show how and where in your organization/team value is being generated. More importantly, it will clarify your overall process, so you can identify flaws or unnecessary steps and eliminate them. This way, you will be able to save previously wasted resources and deliver more with less. Cutting out the wasteful steps of your process can also positively impact your delivery time.

Often, Kanban is first-choice when it comes to visualizing a value stream. Mapping it on a Kanban board gives you and your team a direct glimpse of the big picture. This way, you can optimize not only a fraction of your performance but your overall operational efficiency.What Is Lean Project Management? (3)As the value your team or organization is producing results from your target market and specific cumulative skill set, your value stream map will typically look similar, if not identical, for your different projects. This means you can continuously optimize your project execution process, and every new project will directly benefit from the optimization steps you have made in the previous ones.

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What Is Lean Project Management? (4)

3.Create Continuous Workflow

You have identified the value your customer is seeking to receive, and you have also mapped how you are producing it.

As next, the focus is on ensuring the project can flow smoothly, without interruptions, blockages, or waiting times through your system. In other words, to achieve continuous workflow in your project. However, to make this happen, first, you need to eliminate the waste activities from your process.

Lean defines waste as any process step that consumes resources but brings no value from the customers’ perspective. Generally, we distinguish seven types of waste in Lean:What Is Lean Project Management? (5)

  1. Inventory – typical example of inventory waste is overstocking to meet unexpected demand. In project management, often seen inventory waste is purchased online tools that teams rarely use or office supplies that exceed needs.
  2. Waiting – whenever a task is not moving, the waste of waiting occurs, interrupting the continuous workflow. Typical in project management is waiting for approval from higher management.
  3. Defects – causing rework or even scrap, defects are hazardous waste. Examples from the project management world would be incorrect data collection, conversation errors, and unclear acceptance criteria.
  4. Overproduction - occurs when you exceed customer demand and produce more than is needed or before it is needed. It is also a hazardous waste type, as it triggers the other six wastes. Overproducing in project management would mean filling an unnecessary great amount of documents or communicating unnecessary information.
  5. Motion – to avoid motion waste, you need to arrange a process where workers need to do as little as possible to finish their job. Often in project management, motion waste is generated by searching for information or lack of direct access to data.
  6. Transportation – transportation is wasteful whenever you move resources without this movement generating value to the end product. Task switching, interruptions, unnecessary outsourcing are prime examples of transportation waste in the project management reality.
  7. Over-processing – often manifested as double work or work exceeding customer requirements. In project management, we see over processing most often as multiple levels of approval for small tasks, excessive reviews, or too many iterations.

Eliminating these sources of waste from your process will allow the value to flow through your project freely. However, to ensure a continuous workflow, you also have to look out for bottlenecks.

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A bottleneck is a stage of your work process where work gets stuck due to capacity shortages. You have a bottleneck when a work stage, even working at its full capacity, still would not manage to process work items quickly enough. As a result, continuous flow is interrupted.What Is Lean Project Management? (6)Mapping your value stream and visualizing your workflow makes bottleneck and potential process blockages easy to spot. Having removed all these, your process will be stable and will allow you to use the project resources more efficiently.

On the other hand, a stable process means a predictable process, which will make it easier for project managers to answer the customers’ favorite question, “When will it be done?”

4. Create a Pull System

A pull system is characterized by work entering the workflow only when there is a demand for it. No work item is being started before there is an actual need for it. The focus is on delivering what the customer wants when she wants it. This way, a pull system avoids building up waste during your project and supports its efficiency and predictability.

However, speaking about workflow management, a pull system also means your team members can pull work items only when they have free capacity. Instead of work being pushed over to you, such a system allows you to prioritize work better and start your next task when you can really work on it.

To better control your “Pull” work system, you can introduce Work in Progress Limits.

WIP Limits are an essential element of the Kanban philosophy with a proven effect on productivity. Limiting the maximum amount of work items in the different stages of the work process minimizes multitasking and context switching. It allows team members to focus on the particular task and to complete it faster.What Is Lean Project Management? (7)WIP Limits also regulate new work to be pulled into a particular work stage, only when capacity is available. This way, no tasks are being pushed over, and interruptions or overburdening are minimized.

5. Continuous Improvement

Integrating the previous four Lean principles into the way you manage projects, you have already made the transition from traditional to Lean project management. However, this last principle ensures you are not simply switching from A to B. With continuous improvement, you embrace the fact that your work system is not static and will always offer space for improvement. In Lean, striving for perfection is an ongoing effort.

It is important to underline, this should not be seen as the last step of a project. Moreover, it is something you do with every step.

Integrating continuous improvement efforts into your projects, you will transform your organization into a continuous learning system. This way also the optimization of the team performance will be seen as a continuous effort. Further on, with continuous improvement efforts, you ensure build-in project quality, as improving your team performance positively impacts your projects' performance.

(Video) What is Lean Project Management?

Lean Management Tools

Integrating the Lean principles into your project management routine will not happen overnight and without a dedicated effort from the whole team or organization. However, a good start may be adopting one of the following tools, which can accelerate the transition.

PDCA in Lean Project Management

Also known as the Deming Cycle, the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is a key instrument of the lean manufacturing toolkit.What Is Lean Project Management? (8)As the picture represents, it is a four-stage method that includes solutions testing, analyzing results, and improving the process to enable teams to avoid recurring mistakes and improve operations. Through its iterative approach, PDCA is introduced to improve products, services, and overall team performance continuously.

In Lean project management, PDCA is a good way to establish a culture of solutions testing on a smaller scale, minimize potential re-work, increase customer satisfaction, and support a continuous improvement mentality.

The goal would be to plan, execute, and test a potential solution as an experiment. After that, you should analyze the results from the customers’ perspective to adopt, optimize, and, if necessary, repeat the cycle.

If adapted in your project management process, the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle can be another element that grants build-in project quality.

Kanban for Lean Project Management

Kanban is one of the most widely spread workflow management methods that helps you visualize your work, improve your workflow, and ultimately increase your efficiency.What Is Lean Project Management? (9)Adapting the Kanban principles and practices in project management will reinvent how you and your team structure, organize and execute work in general. The benefit of Kanban is, it respects the current approach and suggest incremental, evolutionary changes, so the transition to Lean can go smooth and one step at a time.

Central to Kanban is the visualization of work. Using Kanban boards for project management will help unhide work, centralize communication in one place and create a transparent work environment with fewer interruptions.

Eventually, the Kanban board will become a real-time status reporter on what is going on in the project, and you will be able to get this information without asking questions. This way, every team member will better understand the work state and project status, and potential bottlenecks will also automatically unhide themselves.What Is Lean Project Management? (10)

Kaizen and Kairyo

As already mentioned, continuous improvement is one of the key principles of Lean. However, it is not something you can just check out of your to-do list.

(Video) Four Principles Lean Management - Get Lean in 90 Seconds

Kaiyro and Kaizen represent the combination of continuous self-development efforts on a personal level and the continuous improvement efforts on a team and organization levels that can result in actual performance and efficiency improvements.What Is Lean Project Management? (11)In the context of project management, practicing Kairyo would mean to regularly reassess the project process to eliminate waste and maximizing productivity and efficiency, or going on a Gemba walk to identify process improvement potentials.

The Gemba walk is an application of the principle of observing work as it occurs and where it occurs. The core idea is that work processes' improvement potential can be best identified in real-time and in the actual work environment. In Lean, Gemba's purpose is to observe, engage, and improve and should occur where the most critical activity happens.

Although very often the Gemba walk is only associated with manufacturing, as there you have a physical production line you can observe, it is a powerful tool for project management too.What Is Lean Project Management? (12)Following the Gemba checklist can help project managers improve the project process and eliminate stumble stones from the workflow before they have caused damage.

Lean Project Management in a nutshell

  • Lean Project Management requires to look at your project as a value stream
  • It is focused on value delivery from the customers perspective, cutting down project waste to optimize efficiency and continuously improving the project process to increase customer satisfaction
  • Contrary to traditional project management, Lean does not distinguish between project phases. The focus is on following the five core principles of Lean management cyclically.
  • Eliminating project waste and creating a pull system is central to increasing the efficiency of your projects.
  • One of Lean project management's main goals is to create a stable workflow - to make the project delivery uninterrupted and by that predictable.
  • Choosing and combining different Lean Management tools like a PDCA cycle, Kanban board, and Gemba checklist will support the transition from traditional to Lean project management


What do you mean by lean project management? ›

Lean project management is an Agile methodology that increases customer value by eliminating waste from each project phase.

What do lean projects focus on why? ›

Used originally by manufacturing organizations, Lean is a performance-based, continuous-improvement strategy that focuses on eliminating waste and unnecessary steps in company processes.

How do you do a lean project? ›

It has five phases, which are explained below.
  1. Define the scope of the project, identify the value for the client, and set goals.
  2. Measure how success will be determined throughout all phases of the project.
  3. Explore new ways of improving the process.
  4. Develop a project plan after assessing all requirements.
Jun 28, 2018

What are the 3 main principles of lean management? ›

Lean Basics

The Lean approach to business processes, originally derived from the enormously influential Toyota production system (TPS) , is based on three fundamental principles: delivering value as defined by the customer, eliminating waste, and continuous improvement.

What does lean stand for? ›

Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude and Nutrition (William Sears)

What is a good example of lean thinking? ›

Lean Thinking Principle 4: Pull

The goal of a pull-based system is to limit inventory and work-in-process while ensuring there are enough materials and information to optimize the flow of work. Two common examples of this include just-in-time delivery and on-demand production.

What are the Lean principles? ›

According to Womack and Jones, there are five key lean principles: value, value stream, flow, pull, and perfection.

When should I use Lean? ›

Like any other Agile methodology, Lean can succeed in small projects with a short time frame. That can be explained by the fact that Lean teams are small. It is quite hard for them to manage large projects quickly. You have to coordinate the activities of two or more Lean teams, if you want to handle a big project.

What are the 5S's of lean? ›

The 5S pillars, Sort (Seiri), Set in Order (Seiton), Shine (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu), and Sustain (Shitsuke), provide a methodology for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment.

Why Lean is important? ›

Lean manufacturing improves efficiency, reduces waste, and increases productivity. The benefits, therefore, are manifold: Increased product quality: Improved efficiency frees up employees and resources for innovation and quality control that would have previously been wasted.

What is a Lean process improvement? ›

Lean process improvement helps to eliminate waste from your processes and focuses on the activities which create value for your customers. The approach is based on the idea for continuous improvement and it employs a variety of process improvement tools and techniques to achieve and sustain progress.

What makes a good Six Sigma project? ›

Any project should have identifiable process inputs and outputs. A good Six Sigma project should never have a pre-determined solution. If you already know the answer, then just go fix it!

Where is lean management used? ›

The lean management principles can be used as a universal management tool to improve companies' overall performance. Some examples of specific business and production processes that are based on the lean management concept include: Lean manufacturing. Lean software development.

Which company uses lean management? ›

Some well-known companies that use lean include Toyota, Intel, John Deere and Nike. The approach is based on the Toyota Production System and is still used by that company, as well as myriad others. Companies that use enterprise resource planning (ERP) can also benefit from using a lean production system.

What is the main focus of lean thinking? ›

The goal of lean thinking is to make business better, value one another, and focus on value to customers. When you can achieve these goals, lean thinking is fully in swing.

What is lean value? ›

Value – the definition of value in lean is everything the customer is willing to pay for.

What is lean process flow? ›

Lean Flow is about how items or people we are dealing with in a process move from the first step to the last. Obviously, the intention in Lean flow is to move the item or product through the process as quick as possible, without any risk to quality and customer satisfaction.

How do you implement lean management? ›

Eight Steps to a 'Lean Manufacturing' Approach
  1. Start by eliminating waste. ...
  2. Reduce unnecessary inventory. ...
  3. Shorten production cycles. ...
  4. Speed up response time. ...
  5. Ensure that all product components have been quality-tested. ...
  6. Extend employee autonomy. ...
  7. Solicit customer feedback. ...
  8. Reach out to suppliers.

What are the 5S stands for? ›

Articles. Clean House With Lean 5S (Quality Progress) Lack of organization in the workplace wastes time and lowers productivity. By implementing a lean 5S system - sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain - organizations can create a clean, well ordered, and disciplined work environment.

Why is the 5S important? ›

5S is designed to decrease waste while optimizing productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to attain more consistent operational results. 5S refers to five steps – sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain (also known as the 5 pillars of a visual workplace).

How do you make a 5S project? ›

Step 2: The 5S Methodology: Broken Down
  1. Sort: Separate required tools, materials, and instructions from those that are not needed. ...
  2. Store: Sort and organize all tools, equipment, files, data, material, and resources for quick, easy location, and use. ...
  3. Shine: Set new standards for cleanliness. ...
  4. Standardize: ...
  5. Sustain:
Jul 25, 2022

What is the difference between Lean and Agile? ›

The difference is that in Lean thinking, teams increase speed by managing flow (usually by limiting work-in-process), whereas in Agile, teams emphasize small batch sizes to deliver quickly (often in sprints).

What are the Lean principles? ›

According to Womack and Jones, there are five key lean principles: value, value stream, flow, pull, and perfection.

Is lean project management Agile? ›

LEAN management is a long term process improvement system for a company, while Agile management is used for quick decision making in individual projects. LEAN methodology manages the overall work of an organization, and applies to all areas of management to get a more efficient and effective overall process.

What are Lean Six Sigma projects? ›

Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology designed to eliminate problems, remove waste and inefficiency, and improve working conditions to provide a better response to customers' needs.

When should I use Lean? ›

Like any other Agile methodology, Lean can succeed in small projects with a short time frame. That can be explained by the fact that Lean teams are small. It is quite hard for them to manage large projects quickly. You have to coordinate the activities of two or more Lean teams, if you want to handle a big project.

What is the opposite of lean management? ›

Traditional Waterfall methodology is a full opposite of Lean. It originated in the 1950s in the United States and was the first software development methodology.

Does lean management work? ›

The advantages of Lean Management.

Improved productivity and efficiency: Employees who focus on creating value will be more productive and efficient because they are not distracted by unclear tasks. A smarter process: By establishing a traction system, you can provide work only if there is a real demand.

What are the 5S's of lean? ›

The 5S pillars, Sort (Seiri), Set in Order (Seiton), Shine (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu), and Sustain (Shitsuke), provide a methodology for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment.

What is lean value? ›

Value – the definition of value in lean is everything the customer is willing to pay for.

What is lean process flow? ›

Lean Flow is about how items or people we are dealing with in a process move from the first step to the last. Obviously, the intention in Lean flow is to move the item or product through the process as quick as possible, without any risk to quality and customer satisfaction.

What is Lean thinking model? ›

The Lean Thinking model is a process to facilitate improvement in patient care with existing resources, meaning the same things can be achieved using fewer people.

What are the four stages of lean methodology? ›

Based on concepts and principles of lean production, the methodology considers the design process as a set of three different models—conversion, flow, and value. Four stages are necessary to produce improvements and changes—(1) diagnosis/evaluation; (2) changes implementation; (3) control; and (4) standardization.

Why is Lean used in Agile? ›

Lean agile aims to eliminate wasteful resources and tasks for improved efficiency and reduced costs — while never sacrificing quality. In fact, lean agile prioritizes bringing value to the customer with every decision that's made. Lean agile is a development method that helps teams identify waste and refine processes.


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