Industry July 2011

Are You Lean?

Eliminate waste by streamlining project management

Successful firms often talk about focusing on driving growth, maintaining profit, or increasing cost-savings and efficiency. At the same time, they are using antiquated project-management programs focused on document production and rigid project structures.

I often encourage leaders to eliminate waste by introducing “lean” concepts into their processes. However, I am sometimes surprised at the lack of traction for innovative ideas in Japan, given excellent frameworks such as the Toyota Production System that organises manufacturing and logistics including interaction with suppliers and customers, or techniques such as kanban (lean and just in time) or kaizen (continuous improvement).

Take a minute to think about your projects. Does the following describe them?

• Documentation of questionable use is being produced or is being presented to the wrong audience.
• Managers who have not participated in the project are being asked to sign off on documents they have not read or do not understand.
• Meetings are too long and decisions are not made or are “off the radar” and being held as default.
• Rework is occurring due to moving-target scope.
• Quality is suffering because of short cuts to meet deadlines.
• Problems are dealt with mostly in a reactive manner.

The above are examples of waste in a project context and here are just some examples of action to take:

• Set the project scope realistically given your budget, available skills and other projects.
• Force meetings to be short and all about decisions, actions and deadlines.
• Keep communications and documentation audience-specific and as brief as possible.

That business executive likely does not have time for, or the desire to read, a 50-page programming specification so I prefer a more practical approach to project management and control.