Lean Project Management

Lean Project Management

“Lean” principles focus on the elimination of waste from a process.  How do we apply lean principles to improve project management?

First, let’s consider some examples of waste that occur during a project:

  • Rework resulting from poorly or partially defined requirements or lack of business participation
  • Defect correction
  • Scheduling gaps and under-utilized resources because of a lack of diverse skills
  • Excess effort/cost resulting from lack of models or templates, lack of automation, or lack of knowledge
  • Poor quality problems resulting from short-cuts to meet aggressive schedules

Each of these examples results in wasted time because of the extra effort.  There is also a waste of computer resources which is less significant today because of the low cost of infrastructure.  Eliminating waste in a project requires “root cause analysis” to determine the source of problems.  Too often we change processes to address a symptom but the root cause of a problem is not addressed so the problem remains.

The following list identifies common problems that cause waste in projects.  Addressing these problems will usually improve the effectiveness and success rates of project teams.

  • Ambiguous requirements and/or scope
  • Poorly defined roles and lack of ownership and accountability
  • Inadequate communication
  • Confusing communication (frequently caused by the use of undefined technical or business jargon)
  • Ambiguous or undefined success criteria
  • Lack of visibility resulting from inadequate project tracking or not enough detail in the project plan
  • Insufficient control resulting from a lack of process or enforcement
  • Inadequate Change Management (requirements, scope, staffing, culture, etc.)
  • Failure to plan for the risks, impacts, and learning curve resulting from deploying new technology

Based on this list of common problems, how do we address these problems and prevent waste?  The following list consists of proactive management techniques for minimizing waste.

  • Clealry defining each of the following types of requirements minimizes changes/re-work:
    • Business Outcomes
    • Functional Requirements
    • Technical Requirements
  • Plan for “progressive elaboration”.  In many cases, requirements are not changing…they are simply evolving as details are identified.  A project plan must recognize that requirements evolve.
  • Establish an achievable Scope based on available resources, budgets, and expected completion date.  If all requirements cannot be addressed within the time frame or budget, define a scope that includes a subset of high priority requirements that can be delivered.
  • Plan the project to avoid Resource downtime and minimize schedule disruptions.  A formalized orientation process is necessary to expedite the deployment of project staff and avoid downtime.
  • Identify and mitigate risks to prevent problems
  • The Change Management Process must formally manage all types of changes (cultural, organization, requirements, technology, and applications).
  • Creative activities (e.g. design) must be managed with clearly defined objectives and deadlines.  Lacking a firm deadline, the creative process never ends and results in significant re-work.
  • Communications plans must be “role” specific.  E.g. Internal team communications can include technical jargon but status to the business sponsor should be written in non-technical terminology.
  • Ensure compliance with processes.  If process compliance jeopardizes a project, the process is broken and should be fixed.
  • Collect and analyze project performance metrics to identify and resolve negative trends
  • Change Management Staffing, and Training plans must clearly address issues with the implementation of a new technology.

Most of these recommendations should be obvious.  If they are so obvious, why do many project teams fail to address these issues?  Unfortunately, organizations commonly have a “reactive” culture that rewards heroic recovery efforts while failing to anticipate and mitigate risks.  Ultimately, the goal of successful project management is to deliver the required solution while preventing problems and not fixing them after they occur.

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