Lean Management has been known in project management for several decades. It was developed to optimize processes in industry in order to make the supply chain of goods more efficient.
However, the lean principle can also be applied to other fields - since the principle of wasting as few resources as possible and optimizing processes accordingly has become in demand throughout the economy. Every action to minimize the unnecessary consumption of money, time and resources is therefore welcome. In a project, it is up to the project manager to lead his project into this direction. It therefore makes sense for every project manager to deal with the lean principle.
The Five Basic Principles of the Lean Concept
The Lean Principle has five main pillars. These are implemented almost everywhere in industry today, but can also be transferred to project management. They are: Value, value stream, flow, pull and perfection. What was originally meant for the implementation of physical production can also be transferred to the achievement of intellectual performance. Value in project management is the end result of a project for the customer. Value stream is derived from this and describes the workflow of the project, in other words the way in which value is created. The aim is to accomplish the entire value stream, meaning the whole project process, without waste. The flow concept stands for the individual work packages within the value chain. These must be defined, analysed and continuously improved. The pull principle requires that a task should only be performed when it is really needed - this involves both streamlining processes and completely eliminating unnecessary processes. And last but not least, perfection: Employees are constantly asked to question processes and contribute their own ideas - because they have their tasks and everyday processes better in focus.
Detect and eliminate wastage
The theory is clear. But how do you recognize wastage in your project? The main reasons for wastage are a lack of focus on the customer's goals and obstacles in the project process. Wastage has different meanings: It can mean overproduction, lost time due to searching and waiting, unnecessary transport and duplicate or incorrect execution of work. If you look at these aspects, you will usually find optimization potential in your project. If working time is used to process things that the customer does not want or expect, this is a waste. If your employees spend time searching for information that might be available faster, it's a waste. If two employees work on the same task, for which one employee would be sufficient, this is also a waste and can be avoided by better management.
In order to track down the wastage in the project, the project manager needs to take some time. And not only during the project, but especially after its completion, when it is clear which processes have proven to be unnecessary. This is the key to identifying important optimization potential for future projects.
The fight against waste: Lean
If you have now identified optimisation potential, how do you deal with it? There is always a reason for wasting and this must be clearly identified in order to eliminate wastage. Always focus your attention on the existing structures and processes, on organigrams and on the culture in the project team. How do they communicate and work together? Does the coordination between the project participants work? Does every employee know exactly what he or she has to do and the scope (and limits) of his or her tasks? Is information passed on sufficiently so that others can use it? Ensuring all this is the job of the project manager. As can be seen here, one focus is on communication within the project team. A special attention makes sense here.
According to the idea of visual management, every employee in a project - regardless of how much process knowledge he has - should be able to quickly identify faults in the process system. For this purpose, information about goals, workflows, results and employee performance is presented in visual form.
For example, the visual management concept was introduced at Toyota: In the 1990s, the managers responsible for the new Toyota Prius created "Obeya" (Japanese for "big room"). All persons involved in product and process development were united in one "big room". All the information flows together here and is actually displayed visually - with the aim of achieving maximum transparency and communication. Graphics, figures and data were visually accessible for every employee in the Obeya on the walls and in folders, making them the basis for decisions.
Today, Obeya is more common in digital form. With the right tools, a good overview can also be given in virtual space. Sometimes, however, it still makes sense to transfer the digital back into reality and create a "big room" when preparing an important decision that provides all important information visually.
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