Managing Projects Today? Think Lean
Anand Lokhande, PMP and Nilima Deshmukh, PMP

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has prompted us to relook a t our priorities in life and embrace practices using optimal resources. Similarly, project management leaders and professionals in all sectors must give a serious thought to Lean processes. With restrictions on travel and collocation of teams here to stay, these practices will enhance a team’s ability to deliver projects efficiently.

What is Lean?
Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources. It means adopting a never-ending process of eliminating waste from processes like manufacturing, distribution, and customer service to minimize the efforts put in to bring value to customers, improve workplace efficiency, and pursue perfection.

What was ailing manufacturing processes?

Waste does not add value to the end customer. Studies say 60 percent of the activities in manufacturing do not add any value. There are seven types of wastes — overproduction, inventory, motion, defects, overprocessing, waiting, and transport. These are commonly known as TIMWOOD. There are various factors that cause such wastage such as:

Poor layouts, complex and lengthy material handling processes, multiple storage locations

Inventory: Lack of balance in workflow

Motion: Non-value-added motion of people or equipment, like excessive bending or walking caused by poor workplace layouts

Waiting: Lack of synchronization of interdependent activities, poor human-machine coordination, long changeovers or time required to perform rework

Overproduction: Producing more than required, unstable schedules, unreliable processes, inaccurate forecasts

Overprocessing: Putting more into product, unclear standardization, tight tolerances, unclear quality acceptance criteria

Defects: Rework, including additional work caused by inadequate training, skill shortage, or inadequate processes

Lean Way of Manufacturing

Lean processes have been in practice in the manufacturing industry for many decades, and have since evolved to handle newer challenges. The objective is to eliminate waste. Lean concept in manufacturing processes started at Toyota in 1933, and was fully deployed by the company by 1970. Toyota also introduced the concept of ‘kaizen’ (constant improvement). The focus was on reducing difficult jobs and enabling the easy ones. Flexible manufacturing, just-in-time inventory, Kanban boards, and automation through robotics helped eliminate the wastes to a large extent.

Lean in Project Management
The presence of unnecessary processes and wastages in day-to-day project management makes it imperative for everyone to follow Lean practices. To extrapolate the TIMWOOD factor in this field, the seven wastes in project management are:

Unnecessary assignment of tasks, interruption, multiple iterations of the same task, and not providing enough data at the beginning, thus causing multiple rounds of meetings

Inventory: Storing and disseminating unwanted and additional information, storing same data in different locations for retrieval later, and storing more consumables and office equipment than is needed

Motion: Inefficient workflow, several layers of permissions to carry out simple tasks, and lack of IT systems to enable faster transition of information and reporting

Waiting: Non-movement of tasks from one person to another, lack of communication, lack of approval process, and absence of management to provide guidance and support to team members

Overproduction: Providing extra information, dependence on external (internet) sources of information and inability to segregate for appropriate use, producing redundant evidences in support of activities or decisions taken, and disseminating multiple versions of same information

Overprocessing: No standardization in the formats, creation of different formats at different times, excessive reviews, multiple levels of approvals for small tasks

Defects: Incorrect collection of data, conversation errors, unclear acceptance criteria, and improper handover of the project documents

Implementing Lean Project Management
Agile projects, shorter delivery projects, and limited resources projects are the order of the day. Whether it’s waterfall or agile, we must revisit the complete project processes rather than focus on individual phases.

Task management

Managing tasks using the “pull” work system and introducing Work in Progress (WIP) Limits: WIP Limits are an essential element of the Kanban philosophy with a proven effect on productivity. Limiting the maximum amount of work items in the different stages of the work process minimizes multitasking and context switching. It allows team members to focus on the task and to complete it faster. Software applications can be used to manage, assign, delegate, and monitor tasks more efficiently.

Ensuring quality of delivery

Using PDCA i.e. the Plan, Do, Check, and Act principle, the team can work to map all the activities of project management, from the initiation phase to the close phase. Value stream mapping and visualizing the workflow to eliminate bottlenecks and potential process blockages is a great way to accomplish tasks in the shortest possible time.

The project processes can be delivered efficiently by using Six Sigma concepts:

• Define the project scope and clarity in deliverables, and manage the value for the customer
• Measure acceptance criteria to be well documented and quantifying success
• Analyze existing processes and conduct gap analysis to improve the future state
• Inspect adoption of the 10 Knowledge Areas from PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) to develop the quality service, product, or result
• Control the project plan and manage change through efficient processes
• Standardization in the Project Management Information System, for example, the same folder structure for all the projects reduces the dependency on a single resource, and saves time to fetch any document. Use of cloud, SharePoint or Box reduces the overburdening on resources.

Empowering the team

People are the most important resources on a project. Divide the workload evenly across your team. It is important to create a culture of fixing problems to maintain the highest quality standards. Maintaining consistency of tasks and processes for continuous improvement and employee engagement will help the team focus on overall objectives of the project. Providing reliable and tested technology for your team and project, and creating a learning-based organization through continuous reflection and improvement will help in the long-term gro wth of an organization and success of the projects at hand. The focus should be on long-term growth and not on short-term survival.


The recent pandemic has opened an opportunity to transform the workforce and the way we manage and deliver projects. Trust, collaboration, communication, and talent development are key to successful projects. Adopting Lean processes will help drive these characteristics for a brighter future of project management.

Anand Lokhande, PMP, PBA, is capability lead at Shell India and is a PMI India Senior Champion. Nilima Deshmukh, PMP, is lead senior project manager at Schneider Electric and is a PMI India Champion.