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Project management in a lean world


Mary LincolnWhen we consider project management in the traditional sense we think about usually using a Prince or Agile approach. How do these work effectively when business demands less cost, less time whilst chasing the same or higher quality in delivery? If your project doesn't include reduction or complete removal of waste it is difficult to ensure that tangible business benefit is acheived.

Coaching your project team and wider stakeholders in understanding the 8 wastes is the imperative. Let’s meet my favourite project manager, Tim Wood. Here's a guy that is all about waste.

T - Talent

Failing to employ a worker's knowledge and talents is wasteful - employees must be able to realise their full potential. Being employed in the wrong position or receiving a lack of training hinders both the company and the customer. How many times have we seen projects run to the book and completely following Prince 2 or Agile and see managers get caught up in being a "Prince 2" project manager and in reality get no-where? Tim is a talented change agent, and importantly has leaned that he can use a framework to guide him. Not dictate how he executes benefit delivery.

I – Inventory 

Storing too much of anything is a cardinal sin of lean thinking. Excess inventory or stock wastes the space and money of more essential things. Extra products that won't be used or a larger supply than required only builds up waste. How many times has Tim seen the same products sat on the shelf in the warehouse with no movement? the stock has been paid for, so has the storage facility, but who's buying the stock? Customer demand has not been understood. 

M - Motion

Excess movement should be limited to only what adds value to the company. Sifting through paperwork and searching through stock, excess motion decreases productivity. Employees should be equipped with what they need to do their job. Tim can see the same people going backward and forwards searching and collecting information for the project that should be close to hand, so that they can get on with their real job delivering change. Organisation and forethought could save all this commotion. 

W – Waiting

Tim is fed up waiting for timely information to help improve his stakeholders understanding of business performance. Idle time between procedures or events disrupting the flow of work. Waiting on paperwork or information can side line a process for weeks. Ideally, processes should flow from one step to the next. 

O – Over-processing

 Adding needless value to a product or requiring excessive signatures on a document, over-processing is everywhere. Tim wants to remove the need to get extra signatures on his project documents because not everyone is around, and actually no-one really understands why they do it like this anyway, "it's always been this way" he gets told. Process and value stream mapping prevent this waste by finding where it occurs and drawing out the simplest means of providing effective project governance.

O – Overproduction

Too soon or too often, overproduction creates the worst waste. It facilitates backups and buildups. Sometimes, it's best to put the brakes on production. Overproduction is an excess of parts when only a few are needed or printing off papers before they're required. Tim sees his project office printing documents that just aren't ready, there's still work to do and there's still time available until they are actually needed. Just-in-Time Production (JIT) teaches to make and deliver just what is needed, when and in the amount necessary. Overproduction overwhelms. 

D – Defects

Any problem in a finished product contributes to waste. Faulty products must be remade. Inputting wrong information creates rework. Tim's Actuals vs Budget is wrong, because the invoices haven't been checked against the budget in Finance. The stakeholders are concerned that the budget's now blown. Mistakes can be kept to a minimum through Continuous Process Improvement (CPI), where employees and managers keep looking for ways to improve their operation.

When Tim applies this thinking to how he manages projects, it causes his stakeholders to see they are getting value. It’s the Lean behaviour the organisation must adopt, and in doing so realise the potential to change their world.

We all need to think like Tim Wood.