Lean for Managing Projects

November 8, 2010


Lean Project Management is delivering more value while reducing or eliminating waste. The idea behind Lean is by eliminating waste throughout a process, managers can “make their teams more effective using fewer resources.” Lean is a “way of thinking and a new way for running companies with benefits for everyone.” The ultimate goal of “Lean is the reduction of waste. To achieve this, a company must look at what creates value and eliminate all other activities” (Emond, Leach, and Taylor).


There are many techniques and concepts to implement Lean Project Management but one of the main methods is standardization. “Standardization is the process of developing and agreeing upon technical standards. A standard is a document that establishes uniform engineering or technical specifications, criteria, methods, processes, or practices” (Wikipedia).

Lean Project Management

Some managers believe that if workers are given several tasks they can be more efficient but according to the Project Management Institute, “that is a false efficiency. Every time people move from one task to another, it causes errors and delays.” Lean project management is most effective when workers focus on a single task. The lean method can increase productivity on average by 100 percent. It can reduce the duration of a project on average of 30 percent and the quality defects an average of 50 percent (Leach).

The Eight Principles of Lean Project Management4

1. The “Last Planner” Rule. The one who executes the work is the one who plans the work. This saves time, money and resources due to reduced waste.

2. The “Tracking Percent Promises Complete (PPC)” Rule. Do not track time (effort) or cost; track small promises that you can see over time.

3. The “Expand Project Team” Rule. Expand the project team to include and integrate all significant stakeholders, as part of the team as early as possible.

4. The “Humans, humans, humans” Rule. Humans execute projects, and project deliverables materialize through humans and for them. So be considerate to humans as, without them, no project can be a success.

5. The “Rolling the Waves” Rule. Make your choices and commitments (promises) at the last reasonable moment. Make them in the form of work packages that will deliver the desired results anticipated with a high degree of certainty. Plan the work, execute the work, learn and adapt, plan the work, execute the work, learn and adapt, plan the work, execute the work…succeed!

6. The “Opening, Adapting and Closing Often” Rule. The IPECC (Initiate, Plan, Execute, Control and Close) cycle is a recurring process; this recurrence is the true key to successful projects, lean-influenced or not. In order to close a project, you have to open-adapt-close formally at the phase level, the work package level, etc.

7. The “Executing Your Small Promises on Single-tasking Mode” Rule. Execute your small promises on single-tasking mode. Once your deliverables are cut into smaller pieces, deliver them one after the other, as much as possible. By cutting your project work in smaller pieces/promises, you will save on set-up tie for each time you are interrupted, thus accelerating delivery.

8. The “Using Lean Project Management principles to implement and adopt LPM” Rule. Live and use what you preach to implement Lean Project Management; by “walk the talk”, you will succeed in increasing the speed and extent of Lean Project Management adoption and ensure a lasting and fruitful change (Emond).

What is the Advantage and Disadvantage for using Lean?

“The main advantage of the Lean Project Management lies in its innate ability to drive down labor costs and task transition waste by streamlining the flow of production.” The main disadvantage of Lean Project Management is that it “does not accommodate change very well and change may be the Achilles heel”, “particularly when we are delivering a product with just enough staff” (Offner).

By Kathy Warnock


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_project_management

2. http://www.lean.org/BookStore/ProductDetails.cfm?SelectedProductId=88

3. http://www.slideshare.net/ahmad1957/lean-project-management-sample

4. http://www.brighthub.com/office/project-management/articles/12663.aspx

5. http://nelsonbodnarchuk.com/?p=222

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standardization

7. http://www.pmi.org/en/Knowledge-Center/Publications-PM-Network/Feature-Lean-Management.aspx

8. http://www.correctionalnews.com/articles/2010/08/17/lean-project-management

One Response to “Lean for Managing Projects”

  1. Mike Gann said

    This approach is interesting to me since, much to my surprise, we appear to use a couple of these rules in my group at work when planning projects. I’m usually the planner and I also execute the work. Our ‘promises’ are usually defined in our Statement of Work documents which constitute part of our contract with a client. In my most recent project, I tried putting together small work packages with incremental due dates which seems to have served me well. I thought I was using a hybrid of Traditional and our SOWs, but it would seem that I was subscribing to a ‘Lean’ approach instead.

    I’m still itching to try Scrum in one of our next larger upcoming projects to see how it plays out and if it delivers any value to us. But this approach may work better due to the overhead I have to deal with upstairs in our management team and the already-established methodologies we have on hand. I’d like to see it changed completely over time, and I’m sure we can in my group, but this might be a good interim approach because it will be more palatable to our management – i.e. they won’t feel as threatened.

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