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 Use Value Stream Mapping to Eliminate WasteThrough value stream mapping, you can visualize any production process and identify waste in both production and design processes. You don't need expensive solutions, the most important tool in implementing lean manufacturing to reduce waste may be the most low-tech thing on your desk: A pencil.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

In its simplest form, value stream mapping is a visualization tool tracing a product family's path backwards from the customer. The exact structure may vary, but one common method involves drawing steps that add value across the map's center and placing non-value-adding steps vertically at right angles to the value stream. Though a value stream map can be created with in-depth research, many leaders also draw rough value stream maps while observing a manufacturing process as it takes place.

The ultimate goal of value stream mapping is the creation of a future state map, which lays out a vision for the implementation of a value-adding flow in the production and design of products or the delivery of services. Setting a current value stream map and a future state map side by side provides leaders with a valuable, yet simple, method of demonstrating the need to eliminate waste in an organization.

Value Stream Mapping as an Introduction to Lean Manufacturing

If you are not already working in a lean environment, you can argue powerfully for adoption of lean practices by presenting a value stream map  demonstrating waste. Whether you identify a feature that fails to add value for the customer or an unnecessary movement slowing production, if your suggestions increase efficiency and improve product flow, you'll boost profitability.

When creating your first value stream map, consider reviewing others' maps and techniques. Many helpful resources are available online. Two particularly relevant books, both by Mark Rother (one co-authored with John Shook), are excerpted free through Google Books: Learning to See and Toyota Kata. A simple image search for "value stream map" also yields relevant examples.

Who Should Create a Value Stream Map?

Though anyone can draw a basic value stream map, some large organizations appoint one or more value stream managers responsible for understanding products from a value stream perspective. These individuals function as an antidote to siloing and miscommunication.

Though a value stream manager, if available, should take primary responsibility for building in-depth understanding of current value streams and creating future stream maps, any executive implementing lean methodologies should know how to read or draw a value stream map.

Quality and Your Value Stream

The most common objections to value stream mapping revolve around quality: "But what if eliminating a process the map shows as wasteful reduces product quality?"

In reality,  the opposite result is likely. Defects in quality are immensely disruptive to product flow and manufacturing efficiency. Likewise, inefficiency is immensely disruptive to customers' perceptions of quality. After all, the customer can hardly praise a product's quality if it hasn't been shipped due to a wasteful process delaying production.

Do you use value stream mapping in your organization?

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