What Is Lean Project Management?


All businesses must make money in order to remain solvent and stay in business. The need for profitability is clear—how you get there is the tricky part.

One way is to deliver more value to your customers while creating less waste for the business. This is commonly called lean project management.

What Is Lean Project Management?

Lean project management focuses on delivering a manufacturing project with more value and less waste. It does this by systematically eliminating waste in the value stream of the lean manufacturing process.

To work, lean project management relies on continuous improvement. That means that every process in the overall business value stream is improved by applying the principle of greater value and reduced waste.

Lean manufacturing was developed by Toyota, which is why it uses Japanese words to refer to the elimination of waste in a manufacturing system (muda), waste created by overburden (muri) and waste that comes about because of uneven workloads (mura).

The lean manufacturing methodology has five lean principles, value, value stream, pull system, continuous flow and perfection. We’ll learn about those below.

What Are the Benefits of Lean Project Management?

When the Toyota Production System (TPS) was first introduced, it allowed the car company to improve value for its customers. The proof is in the pudding; the (then) small car manufacturer has become one of the largest automakers in the world. While the term lean manufacturing didn’t appear until the 1990s, the benefits of lean project management were evident. Here are some:

  • Greater visibility into the manufacturing process
  • More control, better decision-making and empowers teams
  • Boosts productivity and morale
  • Provides alternative ways to get deliverables out the door
  • Faster projects due to having to respond to fewer issues
  • Boosts profits, as more value is added and waste is reduced
  • Increased customer satisfaction

As companies reap these benefits, they have more funds to invest in workers, tools and equipment. This creates a snowball effect of creating even more value and reducing even more waste from the production system. It’s a win-win situation in the best business sense.

To reap all these benefits, you need project management software that provides visibility and connection. ProjectManager is cloud-based software that shares data across multiple project views. For example, the list view can tag tasks, add priority and display the current task status. Try ProjectManager today for free.

List view in ProjectManager
ProjectManager gives you transparency into your team’s work with a list view that shows task status. Learn More!

The Definition of a Lean Project

Lean was developed in manufacturing, but the lean principles have spread to many different industries such as project management and construction. A lean project is simply one in which there is continuous improvement.

That makes it part of the larger agile project management environment, in that it’s flexible and willing to change as needed. It’s all about delivering value to the customers and stakeholders, which is the same whether you’re manufacturing a car or an app.

One of the aspects of lean that makes it unique from traditional project management methodologies is that it applies the five principles of lean project management. That’s the first step in a lean project; identifying the five lean principles, then applying them to your project.

The 5 Lean Principles

Let’s define the five lean principles. These principles have been around for a while but were codified in 1997 by the Lean Enterprises Institute (LEI).

  1. Value: Value is defined by your customer, client or stakeholder. Value can be the quality, timeline or price point of your deliverable—though it’s likely a bit of all three. Know what requirements you need, and what expectations to meet.
  2. Value Stream: You have defined value, now it’s time to map all the steps and processes in your manufacturing cycle. That sequence of steps is known as a value stream in lean project management. Identify every action that must take place in the project, including design, procurement, production, HR, admin and more. It’s helpful to draw this value stream map on one page to illustrate the flow of resources.
  3. Continuous Flow: There shouldn’t be any points that will create bottlenecks or interrupt production. According to LEI, “Make the value stream steps occur in tight sequence so that the product or service will have a continuous flow toward the customer.” It often requires cross-functional teams but results in greater productivity.
  4. Pull System: This is when the customer, client or stakeholder “pulls” the product or service from the project as needed. In other words, the improvements of the prior step lead to faster time-to-market. The advantage of the pull system is no warehousing or stockpiling. That saves money for the business that can then be passed on to their customers.
  5. Perfection: The final step is spreading the philosophy throughout the entirety of your business. Lean is about continuous improvement. Therefore, everyone in the business must always strive to better themselves and the processes they’re involved with. Often it takes several go-throughs to get to the value and really reduce the waste.

What About Lean Program Management?

Projects don’t occur neatly, one after another. More likely, project managers are responsible for overseeing a number of projects. A portfolio is a lot of projects, but a program is a lot of related projects. These can benefit from a lean approach, too.

You can use the five lean principles when managing a program. By looking at all your projects through the lens of lean program management, you find areas where there is waste among the projects. Then, you can pinpoint the value and share resources to help all the projects flow better together.

While it’s not as well-known as lean project management, lean program management is just another example of the fifth lean principle of perfection. If lean principles help a project, they will help a program. Continuous improvement means expanding the reach of your lean approach and having it inform all aspects of your business.

How ProjectManager Helps With Lean Project Management

Mapping your value stream on paper is a good start, but project management software can help you find and eliminate waste. ProjectManager is cloud-based software that connects teams and delivers real-time data for better decision-making.

Create Start-to-Finish Project Plans

Finding value and removing waste requires that you see the entire project in one place. View all the tasks and determine which are keepers and which are unnecessary. ProjectManager’s online Gantt chart lets you map the project and identify task dependencies that can cause bottlenecks. There’s also a filter to chart the critical path, which allows you to see the most efficient way to execute the project and avoid those steps that aren’t adding value.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager organizes your tasks and identifies dependencies on its Gantt view. Try It Free!

Create Flexible Workflows on Kanban Boards

Transparency is key to lean project management. Dynamic kanban boards allow project managers a window into the production cycle without getting in the way of their teams. Meanwhile, teams can manage their backlog of tasks and plan how to execute their work. They can comment on tasks and get notifications by email or in the app when there is a response or update to the work.

A screenshot of the Kanban board project view
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Balance Your Team’s Workload On-the-Fly

Balancing workload is also bedrock to lean project management. Our resource management features let you see your team’s assignments in a color-coded chart that shows who has too many or too few assignments. Then, you can re-allocate right from the workload chart to keep your team working at capacity.

ProjectManager's workload chart
Balance your team’s tasks with ProjectManager’s color-coded workload chart. Try It Free!

Ensure Efficiency is Met with Dashboards

Teams can work how they want with our multiple project views, project managers can get data on their progress with one-click reports and a high-level view from the real-time dashboard. There are even lean program management reports and tools, such as the roadmap, which shows all the projects in your program in one place. You need a flexible tool such as ProjectManager to run a lean project.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project
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ProjectManager is award-winning software that organizes tasks, teams and projects to boost productivity and streamline your processes. The tool is designed to add value and reduce waste, just as lean project management mandates. Join the tens of thousands of teams at businesses as varied as the Bank of America to Ralph Lauren who use our tool to work better together. Try ProjectManager for free today.