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A Complete Guide to Lean Project Management


The Lean project management methodology found its inception in the factories of the Japanese automobile giant Toyota. Sakichi Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno were the founding fathers whose work in the production system inspired Lean management techniques.

Lean manufacturing was conceptualized in the US during the ’90s by MIT where after a comparison of American and Japanese industries, the Toyota Production System (TPS) was categorized as the first system operating fully under the guidelines of Lean management. Subsequently, the entire framework of Lean was developed as one of the project management methodologies and adopted in industries throughout the world.

What is Lean project management?

Lean project management aims at organizing companies in order to meet actual market conditions and requirements by making changes in their functional and organizational layout. The principles of Lean achieve this end by polishing a company’s project management styles and focusing on better employee training.

3 pillars of Lean

According to Paul Akers, an internationally recognized expert on Lean management, there are three pillars that are at the heart of implementing Lean. Without these, following the Lean framework becomes tedious and often unproductive exercise for project management.

  1. Learn to spot waste
  2. Daily improvements
  3. Record Improvements

1. Learn to Spot Waste

Wastes are everywhere and are most of the time scattered across the workstream. The key is to identify the 8 wastes in lean because a problem can never be solved if it isn’t identified. Generally speaking, seven different wastes have been identified in the Lean framework.

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2. Daily Improvements

Once wastes are identified, efforts can be directed towards reducing them on a daily basis. For no waste can be completely removed at once. Also, waste removal and reduction have been sustained for the entire duration of the product manufacturing and delivery line. So small and consistent efforts on a daily basis are the key to controlling wastes.

3. Record Improvements

While it may sound strange, recording ‘before’ and ‘after’ instances of improvements preferably in the form of videos goes a long way in accelerating and growing the Lean culture in your organization. Videos can be available for everyone on board in the organization and can serve as a means towards standardizing improvements.

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5 principles of Lean Project Management

Lean project management principles are essentially directed in improving the process which means that they are process-oriented. Making consistent and sustainable improvements in the process stream is the main concern while trying to implement these principles.

lean principles


  1. Value
  2. Value Stream
  3. Flow
  4. Pull
  5. Perfection

1. Identify Value

The first concern is clearly defining and creating value for customers. Value can be defined as “everything the customer is willing to pay for”. In addition, value is everything that generates customer satisfaction through serving a need, performing a job, improving the position or accomplishing a mission.

For that purpose, teams have to continuously evaluate the product from the customer’s point of view to better understand the factors which create value for the customer.

Sometimes, teams must bring qualitative and quantitative techniques in the form of surveys, interviews or polls to identify value for customers. This is especially true for the case of new products and services where the customers are unsure about their requirements.

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2. Map the Value Stream

Once the key values are identified using the Value Stream Mapping principle, all those processes which contribute towards generating those values are highlighted and all others are considered as wastes. By reducing wastes from the process stream, customer satisfaction can be achieved better because the delivery of value is ensured plus the company’s additional costs (incurred in waste processes) are also reduced.

3. Flow Creation

After removing the wastes, it is necessary to establish a smooth flow of the processes that generate value. This includes breaking down the process into independent delivery units, removing friction and delays, redistributing the workload and reconfiguring the production steps.

4. Establishing Pull

The idea of establishing pull is aimed at reducing excess inventory and work in progress, both of which are considered huge wastes in any industry. In order to reduce these two wastes, companies try and better understand that when exactly the customer needs the value in hand and when will he/she ‘pull’ the value from the industry.

Once the project timeline is better understood, companies can drastically reduce the excess and ‘just in case’ inventory in their storage which goes a long way towards establishing a smooth workflow.

5. Seeking Perfection

At the heart of pursuing perfection are efforts to make continuous improvements. The effort to continuously improve the implementation of the first four principles is necessary for an organizational culture that strives for perfection.

The process of implementing the five principles shouldn’t be mechanical in nature, rather it has to be driven by a spirit of continuous analysis, innovation, and adaptability.

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Benefits of Lean Project Management

Few main benefits of implementing Lean are as follows:

Enhanced Workforce Engagement

Many industries face the problem of disengaged employees who are not contributing to enhancing productivity in any way. This problem is directly addressed by Lean because, in a culture where continuous improvement is the goal and all employees can take the initiative, the number of disengaged workers is reduced.

The reason behind this is simple, workers can directly rectify issues that hamper performance and cause sluggishness in the workflow.

Lower Employee Turnover

In a culture where employees are given greater stake and initiative, a sense of belonging is generated as workers can achieve success by contributing to the company’s productivity. This, in turn, saves the company’s resources directed towards hiring, recruiting and training new employees.

Increased Competitive Advantage

Companies with a culture of seeking continuous improvements naturally produce better and competitive products in the market which serves as a source of profits for the company and positive reinforcement to implement Lean.

How Lean and Agile go hand-in-hand

The Lean methodology precedes the Agile framework and has its roots in the manufacturing industry. Agile was introduced for product management teams. Both these methodologies found their place in IT organizations, where Lean was adopted for software development.

Agile focuses on feature-focused, iterative development while keeping the processes flexible. Lean emphasizes on the elimination of wasteful, non-value add activities. Though they’re distinct methodologies, they share the same core values.

If you already have an Agile team, you can implement Lean practices by identifying your value stream. Project tracking software gives a visual representation of the flow of work, thereby helping you identify inefficiencies. It opens your eyes to how company policies and siloes are slowing you down and keeping you from continuous delivery.

Typically, in Agile, you get the product requirements from the business analyst or the product owner. When looking from a Lean lens, you start by identifying assumptions and risks that exist around new features. Consider how these along with the requirements provide value to the end customer.

Organizations can use a hybrid of the Lean and Agile approaches to build healthy, innovative teams that continuously deliver value to the customer.

Lean techniques in the modern world

In today’s competitive market, it is imperative for organizations to maintain their competitive edge by capturing adequate market share. This goal can be effectively accomplished by adopting Lean with customer satisfaction and value delivery as its core concerns.

Furthermore, the ever-changing market dynamics and customers’ needs and wants, organizations that lack the ability to adapt and improve get left far behind the competitors. The Lean framework ensures that the competitive edge is maintained by fostering a culture where continuous improvement is a metric for success and is incentivized among the employees.

Since the goal of Lean project management techniques is to establish an efficient workflow and enhance the team’s responses, it is important to rely on an intuitive and powerful project management software.

Implementing Lean method using Kissflow Project

Kissflow Project is the ultimate project management application, providing you with a much-needed platform for project management, especially if the concepts are foreign to you. It allows you to establish workflows intuitively, customize project management templates, track the progress of different tasks and maintain an effective record of the team’s progress. It can seamlessly integrate with Google applications and has a 24/7 live support to guide you in case of any problems.

Contrary to many other platforms in the market, Kissflow Project is also reasonably priced and gives you the best value for your money. It’s cross-platform availability, understandable interface, numerous high-end features, and many other amazing qualities make it the best option for both small businesses and large enterprises.