Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Lean Project Management: How to Apply Lean Thinking in Your Next Project

This Guest Post is from Ian Needs of KeyedIn Solutions

You’ve almost certainly already heard of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, a book that crushed business preconceptions by promoting a radically minimalist approach to new ventures.

Have you thought about how the principles of leanness can be applied to your project management? You should!

It isn’t all about ‘failing fast’. Lean project management boosts productivity and ROI by streamlining your project to focus on the aspects that have the greatest impact on success.

What Lean Project Management Means for You

Lean project management is the adoption of lean thinking in all areas of a project, from initiation right through to closure.

The aim is to deliver maximum value with minimum waste. In other words, you maximise your return on investment by investing as little as possible, while balancing this with optimal value to your business.

Adding lean thinking to your project management armoury helps you reach completion on time and on budget with minimum effort. To get you started, here are a few Lean Startup catchphrases translated into PM-speak:

“Eliminate Uncertainty”

Evaluate continuously, both to help you keep your project on-track and to know when it’s time to switch tracks entirely. Project management is an on-going process, and evaluation and feedback are vital for process evolution.

“Work Smarter, Not Harder”

Ask yourself first whether this project should be planned. A project whose rationale is shaky may not be worth your business’ resources. Second, ask whether what your need is already available – there’s no point reinventing the wheel if a solution exists that meets your project’s needs. Third, look at what elements you can automate to reduce waste.

“Develop a Minimum Viable Product”

For you, that’s a minimum viable project. Pilot your project on a very small scale, then measure and learn as you execute. By the time you initiate a larger-scale iteration of the project, you’ll already have collected a lot of valuable data to help you optimise the process.

“Validated Learning”

Incorporate empirical experiments into your project to validate your theories and test your assumptions. You can’t rely on an idea for project optimisation until you’ve validated it through the build-measure-learn process.

“Build – Measure – Learn”

For a PM, it’s execute-measure-learn. Never miss an opportunity to collect relevant, actionable data that can help you to laser-focus your project. Make sure that your plans include means and methods for making the most of this data once you’ve gathered it, too!


In your projects, consistency of information, decision-making and communication are vital to smooth execution. Make sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to outputs, and don’t forget the importance of standardising reward, too. Project culture and morale play a big part in the Lean Startup mentality for success.


Sometimes, you have to abandon Plan A. This can be a stressful realisation, but don’t cling to your initial plans if the time for a course change has come. Plan B (or C, or D, or E) will give you a new horizon rather than leaving you stuck in a failing project.

If your projects have felt a bit bloated lately, try applying some of these lean ideas to clear the path. We’d all love to hear how it works for you!

About the author: Ian Needs works as Marketing Manager at KeyedIn Solutions. Find out about their comprehensive project management software package here.


Andrew said...

Great article Ian - thanks for sharing.

I'd also like to caution that a lean approach is not the same as relying on chaos.

I respect the lean approach to business and I love how you have related it to Project Management here also.

Valencia Paz said...

"The aim is to deliver maximum value with minimum waste." - The very aim of any company out there is to get the full value of their investment with a little cash-out. Using these ideas will really help a lot to reach our goal through a clear and straight path, sometimes we get bogged down with many things that we lose our focus. This is a really great post to ponder on!

Joe said...

One good tactic for lean project management is to repeat your successes. If your current project is similar to one executed in the past, leverage your success and re-use that former project as a template.