What is Lean Project Management? - Definition & Methodology

Instructor: Sherri Nash

Sherri’s teaching includes middle school through college. Degrees include bachelor’s marketing education, master’s adult education and doctorate in curriculum instruction.

This lesson defines lean project management and the difference from traditional approaches. The Deming Cycle, Kanban, and Lean Six Sigma methodologies are discussed.

Definition of Lean Project Management

Companies work on various projects that include developing products, services, and/or processes. Lean Project Management uses data-driven methods to manage projects by focusing on continuously improving the process. This approach stems from lean management that emphasizes:

  • Quality
  • Empowered cross-functional work teams
  • Data analysis
  • Increased customer value (value-added)
  • Eliminating waste through efficient use of employee time, materials, and financial resources

Lean project management methods are particularly effective with complex projects impacted by cost and resource limitations. These project management methods include Deming Cycle, Kanban, and Lean Six Sigma (DMEDI). Lean Project Management methodologies focus on in-depth planning, visual documentation tools, ongoing analysis and process improvements to eliminate waste.

Assume you are the Project Manager at Quality Corporation. In the past, you managed projects by delegating responsibilities using the traditional project management model. This involved following sequential steps to perform the five stages of project development which include initiate, plan, execute, monitor, and completion of the project. Once a step was completed, the project moved on to the next step without evaluating the effectiveness of each step in the process. Research states 25% of projects are not completed on time, or are discontinued before completion. You decide to explore three lean project management models to improve the process for managing projects.

Deming Cycle (PDCA)

The Deming Cycle is based on W. Edwards Deming philosophy defining four phases to achieve consistent results. Deming was an innovator of Japanese manufacturing quality and data analysis. The phases in the cycle, which may be repeated at any phase as needed, are:

  • Plan by analyzing and identifying the problem to solve.
  • Do or develop solutions to analyze.
  • Check the effectiveness of the solution and make improvements.
  • Act and implement the revised solution.

Examples of tools used in the Deming Cycle include the Five Why's with questions determining root causes of process problems, Kaizen philosophy focusing on incremental improvements and Impact Analysis relying on team brainstorming and evaluating causes for errors and solutions for improvements.

Your project team at Quality Corporation decides to use the Deming Cycle method for projects that are frequently repeated. The team participates in impact analysis brainstorming during the Plan phase and identifies answers to five questions to evaluate the previous process used to complete the project. Next in the Do phase, the team identifies solutions to try and evaluates how well the solutions worked in the Check phase. Finally, additional improvements needed in the process are implemented in the Act phase. This cycle repeats each time the team implements the process for continuous improvement.

Lean Six Sigma (DMEDI)

Six Sigma is a structured, measurable method used for the purpose of identifying root causes of problems up front to prevent waste of time, resources, or insufficient project quality from occurring throughout the project. The five phases (DMEDI) for managing projects include:

  • Define the project purpose, establish goals, structure and identify the value for the customer and company.
  • Measure throughout the process and project completion by determining how you will quantify success.
  • Explore new ways to accomplish completion of the project to continually improve the process.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan, including personnel and financial resource needs, to organize and implement the project as identified in the define phase.
  • Implement the project plan for completion.

Six Sigma methods use lean management tools to analyze data to establish and monitor measures for continuous improvement. Some of these tools include: Value Stream Mapping which is a visual representation from start to finish of the project process, Customer Feedback surveys or focus groups to identify improvement needs, Root Cause Analysis to look at any problems and symptoms and determining the causes to correct, Gantt Charts or bar graphs representing project progress, and Statistical Process Control (SPC) control charts to analyze data.

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