How to Apply Lean Principles to Project ManagementOne area in which Lean can advantage companies of all sizes, across nearly all industries, is project management. Although sometimes characterized more by buzzwords than action, project management done right is an enormous boon to any company working to move forward.

Four Ways to Apply Lean Principles to Project Management

Apply Continuous Improvement to Project Management

Kaizen (continuous improvement) is directly applicable to project management. For instance, consider a project manager who manages advertising campaigns. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) could include completion time; project cost; time one team spent waiting while another project component awaited completion; number of revisions; product sales; and many, many more. Continuous improvement relies on KPIs to determine success, making project management an excellent fit for Kaizen.

Address All "Customers'" Definitions of Value

Imagine that you are managing a software development project. Who are your customers? Naturally, your mind will leap to software buyers, but do not stop there. Your marketing team is also a "customer," awaiting a product whose key value to them will be its marketability. What about your customer support department? Might not they be customers also, awaiting a bug-free product that allows for efficient service?

Project managers should think ahead to the needs of customers within their organization and outside it. Address internal "customers'" definitions of value, while still allowing the ultimate customers--those who will buy the product--to contribute to its outcome.

Combine Value Stream Mapping with a Work Breakdown Structure

In project management, a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the roadmap that sets out a clear path from start to finish, breaking down labor elements in a tree structure which starts from the final objective and moves backwards. In Lean management, a value stream map is a road map starting with raw materials and leading to value landing in the hands of an end user or customer.

Combine these two valuable visualization tools to gain new perspective on project management. Maybe you will discover that your work breakdown structure calls for the duplication of work, or that your value stream map demonstrates that too many resources are spent on transportation and travel in order to complete projects. Mapping both value and work will lead you to a deeper level of understanding.

Lean Project Prioritization

Project management calls for the division of projects in three categories: Compliance, operations, and strategic projects are all critical to business success. It is easy to become bogged down in compliance projects (those you must do or face serious penalties) and operations projects (the day-to-day projects allowing you to continue doing business) and forget about strategy.

Use Lean management to prioritize projects based on customer-defined value, shifting resources as necessary to ensure that compliance projects are completed in order to avoid severe consequences. Strive to streamline operations projects by finding efficiencies and eliminating waste. Then, add strategic projects to your team's workload over time, creating the vision and momentum needed to deliver ongoing value to customers as you grow.

How to Build a Sustainable BusinessHere’s a question every business owner considers at some point in their career: “How do I build a sustainable business?”

The answer isn’t simple or quick or easy, but Joe Worth, vice president of operations and partner at B2B CFO says, “the answer is the same for any small business, whether it’s looking to cash out in 50 months or 50 years.”

In a recent article for Entrepreneur, Worth lays out what he calls “a basic checklist” to build a sustainable business.

A Sustainable Business is Financially Strong

Having financial controls in place reduces the possibilities of theft or fraud and enables you to make effective decisions about the future. “Until you know where every penny’s going,” Worth says, “your business isn’t on sound footing.”

Reduce or Eliminate Distractions

Your job as CEO or business owner is to focus on the future—“building relationships, developing new products and services and overseeing other big-picture ideas.”

But you can’t attend to these vital functions if you’re distracted by cash flow issues or hiring and firing employees.

“Hire trustworthy and smart people to handle the details,” Worth says. “They’re worth it.”


Whatever products or services you’re providing, keep thinking about ways to diversify your offerings. “Spreading sales over more customers, product lines, or markets … enhances opportunities for growth.”

Document Business Processes

Worth says, “I often tell owners if they want to be a bigger company eventually, act like one now.”

This means you have to maintain accurate and comprehensive documentation of your business processes.

Strive for Continuous Improvement

An inefficient business is almost guaranteed to fail sooner, rather than later. Improve efficiencies wherever possible, Worth says. “Every dollar of improvement here will result in more dollars of value, whether it’s four years from now or 40.”

Guard Your Intellectual Property

Think it’s too costly to hire an IP attorney? If so, your business could be at risk of losing valuable rights for trademarks, names, designs, technologies, etc.

Maintain Equipment and Upgrade Where Necessary

The technology used in your business must be maintained because, without it, what do you have?

As Worth notes, you should always have access to funds “that can be used to take advantage of technological improvements, expand operations and keep everything in running order.”

Be a Fair and Inclusive Employer

Obviously, a high-performing team is a must-have for the longevity of your business. Put HR policies in place that increase employee retention, rather than diminish it.

Don’t Compete on Price

Becoming known for undercutting the competition is a non-starter, Worth says. Not only does it destroy your profit margins, “you want customers to choose you for your superior products and services, not because you’re cheapest.”

Businesses that focus on the quick buck rarely last long.

Instead, a company whose owner charts growth and progress in years, not months, “is a much easier ship to steer.”

What are you doing to build a sustainable business?  


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