Lean in Project Management
The article handles the topic of lean management within project management. Lean management has become a significant topic within management. As it started out to only affect manufacturing process and eliminate waste when producing products, Lean nowadays is applied throughout all departments in a company in order to eliminate as much waste as possible and thus increase return on investment. Therefore Lean can also be applied in Project Management.
This article will give an overview of applicable lean methods for project management looking at the project management process and its elements. While creating the process Lean thinking has to be incorporated in the process planning in order to make it possible to act lean when executing the process. Different literature for the topic will be reviewed. In the end applicability and limitations to the topic will be given.
Toyota is the first word that usually comes to people’s minds when talking about “Lean”. Taiichi Ohno who developed the Toyota Production System is considered the founder of Lean manufacturing. He was the first one to consistently and thoroughly eliminate waste and thus accelerate production efficiency. Lean manufacturing relies on 5 key principles which are:
- Identify and define value;
- Identify and map the value stream;
- Create Flow;
- Establish Pull;
- Pursuit perfection.
Within these principles the focus lies on eliminating waste. The different types of waste, called Muda in Japanese, which can occur were defined by Womack and Jones:
- Defects in products;
- Overproduction of items no one wants;
- Inventory waiting to be processed;
- Unneeded processing;
- Unnecessary transport of goods;
- People waiting for input to work on;
- Design of goods and services that do not satisfy customer needs.
Lean manufacturing’s core issue is to identify and reduce waste and become more effective and efficient. Cusumano and Nobeoka start to extend Lean ideas to multiple project systems. Projects should be linked strategically through product portfolio planning, technologically through the design of common core components and organizationally through overlapping the responsibilities of project managers which is the beginning of thinking about Lean Project Management.
Lean Project Management
Lean tries to improve established methods and standards in project management. There is no one way definition of how a project can be made Lean but the existing methods are a support to develop Lean Project Management.  Lean Management is based on Quality Management which has been a tool for Project Management already.
Lean Project Management is trying to optimize the process by reducing the non-value adding activities and optimizing the value adding ones.  Usually there are more non-value adding activities than value adding, this moves the focus from the optimization of the value generation to the reduction of waste. Looking at the key principles of Lean, waste is usually defined as waiting time. Waiting in project based productions or enterprises does not primarily have to be a disadvantage. Buffers, for example, were found to rather support Project Management than to hold up the project. 
Reusch expanded the 5 key principles of Lean and adjusted them to Lean Project Management. The key principles for Lean Project Management were identified as:
- Specify what creates value from the customer´s perspective;
- Identify all the steps along the process chain;
- Make those processes flow;
- Identify waste – based upon needs and expectations of customers;
- Eliminate waste – based upon needs and expectations of customers;
- Make only what is pulled by the customer;
- Strive for perfection by continually removing wastes;
- Amplify learning;
- Make decisions at the right time;
- Empower the team;
- build integrity;
- See the whole.
Further Reusch identified examples of waste in projects in relation to the categories of waste introduced above. The results are shown below.
|Waste type in projects||Cause|
|Lack of effectiveness in projects||Ignoring available products services standards, ignoring innovations|
|Lack of efficiency||Communication problems, lack of information, ignoring information, missing skills, weak organization (waste of time in meetings, needless meetings), collecting redundant or useless information, not considering standards|
|Waiting||Communication problems, lack of information, lack of resources|
|Over-production in projects||Wrong definition of requirements, overlapping and not harmonized processes|
|Rework||Wrong specifications, missing competencies, insufficient or not effective control|
|Motion||Lack of resources|
|Over processing||Overburden of regulations|
|Inventory related waste||Planning errors, lack of resources|
|Transport related waste||Planning errors, lack of resources|
These waste types have to be identified alongside the process of Project Management. The standard process of project management IS defined by PMI (Project Management Institute) in their Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The process is:
- Monitoring and Controlling
The PMI has also defined nine knowledge areas for project management which are crucial for a successful delivery of a project. These knowledge areas include Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human resources, Communication, Risk, and Procurement. Looking at the process and knowledge areas, Lean Project Management has to focus on eliminating waste within these areas. Leach narrowed this thinking down by saying that “each task is a process”. Each process requires inputs and outputs. The outputs then go to the successor and the sum of them create the project result. Waste has to be eliminated in the entire process, in each task and among the interfaces of input and output.
As Lean Project Management is a broad topic and different interpretations for “How to make a project more lean” exist, this article focuses on Lean Project Management identified by Lawrence Leach who adapted PMI standards and Lean Thinking to Project Management in order to develop eight principles which can support a project leader or organization on its way to eliminating waste.
Lean Project Management by Leach
Leach introduced 8 principles which can lead to successful project results by using lean tools and critical chain management. (see Figure 1) A short overview of each step will be given below.
Principle 1: Project System The project system is defined as the interaction of People, Process and Product that the project will produce. The system defines how the project will be executed and whether it will be successful. Further, each project is different. In order to act Lean, one should not rely on standards but adjust to the environment. The project leader has to identify the system, the inter-relationships and its sub-processes and evaluate what is essential in order to be successful.
The next step is to make sure to create a critical chain with resource leveling and using buffers. Resource leveling means that one person only works at one job and not on three jobs at the same time while other people have to wait for that person to finish. Figure 2 shows how waste can be reduced through resource leveling and buffers.
Leach shows that these tools allow projects to not having to finish all tasks on time to finish a project on time, that sometimes one can finish sooner by starting later and that adding buffers can reduce total project duration and cost. All of this can only be accomplished if one knows the system and the interrelationships.
Principle 2: Leading People Stakeholder management is one of the most critical and important issues for success. One has to remember that project team members are also stakeholders and one of the most important ones. Leaders who are able to keep stakeholders supporting the success of the project will confront less obstacles. Further, an effective team leader guides the team through predictable team development phases, uses win/win problem solving methods to smoothen conflicts, allocates responsibilities to each member to support performance and matches skills with tasks.
Principle 3: Charter The project charter helps to achieve the project goal through financial, customer, process or employee results. It established a project vision. The charter allows the team to create a project plan. This process should be used to identify and resolve issues and actions that will and could arise during the project. Not all issues can be resolved right in the beginning but knowing about them and appointing one person to one issue will lead to faster resolution in the future.
Principle 4: Right Solution One of the waste types in Lean are products or services that do not meet the customer’s needs. Requirements thus are the basis for the design of the solution. Further the idea what success looks like by the stakeholders has to be incorporated in the modelling of the solution. Leach proposes to develop more than one solution and in the end select the one that reflects the stakeholders needs the most. Tools that support the team on the way of executing the solution practically are the Work Breakdown Structure, Milestone Sequence Chart and work packages.
Principle 5: Manage Variation Two different kind of variations are introduced. The common-cause variation and the special-cause variation. Common-cause variation repeatedly occur within a project whereas special-cause variations are usually caused by factors outside the system and are rather not predictable. Special-cause variations are hard to predict but common-cause variations exist in every project. Common-cause variations can be minimized by using buffers. There are four different buffers which can be applied in order to manage variation.
The project buffer: This is a time buffer at the end of a project and assures that there in general is “room left” when something goes wrong. The feeding buffer: These are time buffers in order to fill the time between a non-critical part of a project with a critical one. (see principle 1) Capacity constraint buffer: This is a resource capacity buffer which makes sure that the resource that is occupied the most during a project gets appointed a buffer in order to handle common-cause variations. Cost buffer: This is a monetary buffer which gives room for cost variations within the project.
Principle 6: Manage Risk Risk management is the tool to manage special-cause variations in a project. Risk management has to be an ongoing process in order to identify variations, therefore the project leader and the team members have to take action for risk management in order for it to be effective. The ongoing process of risk management involves identification of risks, analysis, monitoring and controlling. Risk Management not only is one of the nine Knowledge areas of the PMBOK but through the actions of monitoring and controlling, actively contributes the fifth process step of project management “Monitoring and Controlling”.
Principle 7: Project Plan The Project Plan is defined as how the project is executed, monitored and controlled, and closed. Tools for creating the plan include the project vision, a Work Breakdown Structure, key milestone sequence chart, action list, work package assumptions, risks. In Lean Project Management the focus has to be put on resource leveling and task assignment. A smooth project plan can be assured when the total number of recourses demanded in one time slot never exceed the total number of resources available. Task assignment should be managed by at least assigning one resource to one task and matching the resource skills with the needed skills for the task.
Principle 8: Execute The execution of a Lean Project Management takes place efficient, effective, straight forward, without loops, pulled by the customer and executed to the needs of the customer. In order to assure these the relay race theory or metaphor can be used. It will be explained in the next section.
The relay race theory
What is a relay race
In a relay race a team has more than one runner. The first runner gets a baton which he has to hand over to the next runner once he finished his round. The runners may not lose or drop the baton. Therefore, it is essential for the runners to be in synchronization when they run and hand over the baton. The hand-over is practiced and before the first runner releases the baton to the second one, the second runner makes sure to indicate that he firmly has the baton in his hands. In this way no time is lost due to speeding down or losing the baton.
The relay race and Lean Project Management
This theory or metaphor is important for lean project management as it can describes the most lean way of how dependent tasks should follow each other. It enables efficient hand overs of tasks and makes predictable schedules possible. Looking at the relay race we can link the actions of the runners to actions within projects. In a project one ideally would want to have: 
- early collaboration to ensure understanding of requirements of the customer (practicing the handover of the baton);
- a period of collaboration at the end of a task/project to ensure that the task team and the customer are on the same page (matching the speed with the second runner);
- a well-executed transaction process and passing on the results as soon as the task is done (placing the baton into the other runner’s hand);
- an agreement of the customer that the task has been fulfilled successfully (making sure that the runner has the baton firmly in his hands)
- a start of the task as soon as the input is available (the runner would never stop once he holds the baton in his hands);
- to work 100% on the task in order to avoid delays (the runners are fully focused trying to win the race)
Every meeting, every support task, every funded activity should have a tangible output. In project management terms decisions for examples are also outputs of meetings. If a task does not have an outcome, it wouldn’t contribute to the project and thus be waste. Further, every task has a customer and this customer does not have to be external but can also be internal for example another department or just a colleague.
Looking at the relay racer in Lean Project Management one wants to link dependent tasks as lean as possible without creating waste. This method is a pull method and can be compared to Toyotas Kanban system where products are “pulled” through the production through Kanban cards which tell the predecessor the exact quantity of items that are needed.
The traditional working method is just task dependency. Here Task B is dependent on Task A. When Task A is finished, the results or output is handed over to Task B.
In Lean Project Management one tries to link the tasks. Just as in a Pull Production tasks are dependable on each other. Task B is the customer of Task A. The customer determines when the previous task is complete, the customer is involved at an early stage and there has to be an early definition of the content and format of the deliverable.
By doing this the project leader will be able to eliminate waste types like overshoot and undershoot of information/content, delays and errors in project. This method can be used for internal projects, for external projects, for program management and portfolio management.
The implementation of lean linkages between dependent tasks involves the definition of requirements and deliverables, successful handovers of outputs and the elimination of approval delays. 
Define Deliverables and requirements Sometimes it is not easy if for example an internal customer doesn’t know yet what his requirements are or what the deliverable should look like. In order to support the process some actions can be taken to refine the understanding of the output.
- Use deliverables form earlier project to inspire needs;
- Produce prototypes and ask for feedback;
- Make sure that everyone uses the same or compatible information technology. For example Word and Latex.
This approach is less wasteful than into-the-blue hand-offs. Furthermore, does this early involvement of customers, internal or external, lead to enhancement of relationships and team building. Unused prototypes can be used for other project to inspire needs and requirements for projects. Even realizing what is not a requirement is constructive since this is yet an elimination of waste.
Successful hand-off Hand-offs usually fail because requirements are not met and iterations have to be initiated. The closer one gets to the completion of a task, the more urgent is becomes to involve the customer for approval. This leads to the ability to still adjust to changes and decrease the time of the final approval by only approving the last changes that have been made since the first approval. The feed-forward method  can be used for this task. Before the project is completed a preliminary document of approval is send to the customer. The unapproved steps can then be revised, refined and in the end only the changes have to be approved. Method: feed forward.
Eliminate Approval delays Approval delays can be subject to waiting time for example because of a missing signature. The project leader has to make sure that not too many obligatory signatures exist. Furthermore, internal deliverables should rely on trust and discipline and not have to be approved by hierarchical authorities. Deadlines for feedback allow the task keeper to move the output to the next customer.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Leach, L. P. (2005) “Lean Project Management: Eight Principles for Success. Combining Critical Chain Project Management [CCPM] and Lean tools to accelerate project results” Boise, Idaho.
- ↑ Womak, J., Jones, D. (1996) “Lean thinking: Banish waste and create wealth in your corporation” New York. Simon and Schuster.
- ↑ Cusumano, Nobeoka (1998) “Thinking beyond Lean” New York, The Free Press.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Reusch, P. J. A., Reusch, P. (2013) “How to develop Lean Project Management?” The 7th IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Data Acquisition and Advanced Systems. Berlin, Germany.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Bertelsen, S. „Bridging the gaps – towards a comprehensive understanding of Lean Construction” The international Group for Lean Production.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 PMI. (2004) „A guide to the project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition.” Newton Square, PA, PMI.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Mascitelli, R. (2002) “Building a Project-Driven Enterprise: How to Slash Waste and Boost Profits Through Lean Project Management” California, Technology Perspectives.