5 Lean Principles to Enhance Your Project Efficiency

Toyota's manufacturing division developed the lean approach, but it soon became apparent that project managers could use lean concepts to decrease waste and inefficiency in any business.

From healthcare to software development, lean concepts reduce costs while maintaining a competitive advantage. For many American businesses, being lean is the only way to compete globally against competitors from nations with substantially cheaper manufacturing costs.

Lean has shown to be an efficient approach to managing teams in some of the most demanding sectors, including software development, manufacturing, and construction. The fact that the technique is simple to comprehend and quick to make an impact when correctly implemented has played a significant part in this.

What is Lean?

Because the concept focuses on building the most efficient environment that encourages development, Lean is frequently referred to as the 'rigorous elimination of waste.' To apply lean project management to any team, the manager must adhere to the three lean pillars. The three pillars are identifying waste, encouraging everyday improvements, and documenting those gains.

Lean implementation is an iterative process that assists you in identifying areas where no value is contributed to your product. A process must be run through lean numerous times to be entirely waste−free.

Another feature that distinguishes Lean is its flexibility. It has a track record of success in various sectors, and in project management, the methodology evolves with the business. With the global adoption of IoT and Industry 4.0, lean is becoming more data−driven. It is expanding alongside the industry to continue providing outstanding value to consumers.

Five Principles of Lean Explained

The Lean principles were first outlined by the founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute in 1997 and serve as a foundation for the whole approach. Womack and Jones presented the five lean principles as the ultimate prescription for improving workplace efficiency in their project management book "The Machine That Changed the World."

1. Determine the value

Identifying the customers' wants and expectations is the first lean concept. Managers must conduct extensive interviews and analyses to determine their consumers' demands. Value identification is especially crucial in the case of new items.

Customers are rarely eloquent enough to convey their requirements, and managers are accountable for keeping customers engaged and understanding their expectations.

2. Diagram the value stream

The value stream identifies all the actions necessary to execute the project effectively. This is the second phase of lean project management, referring to the values stated in the previous step.

Managers may discover inefficiencies and try to eliminate them by accurately mapping the entire value chain. This enables project teams to provide the highest value to customers while saving the company's resources to maximize earnings.

3. Make a flow

After the wastes of lean have been removed, a process must be designed to ensure the project's seamless execution. The whole project management process is separated into discrete delivery units or milestones that are completed progressively until the process is completed.

To minimize bottlenecks and unforeseen delays in the project, it is critical to guarantee that each event in the value stream occurs smoothly. In addition, all essential resources must be accessible on time.

4. Create a pull

Maintaining inventory is critical for any business, and you can't afford to lose time waiting for the necessary resources or materials to arrive after each milestone. In contrast, excessive inventory leads to increased expenses and waste. A fourth principle examines two significant wastes and values in lean inventory and works in progress.

The expenses of storing inventory may be reduced by implementing pull and ensuring that nothing is processed or created ahead of time. This strategy, which rejects the old technique of depending on projections and authorized timetables, gave rise to the term "just in time."

5. Constant improvement

The ultimate concept of lean project management is the unwavering pursuit of perfection. Managers guarantee that their teams perform much better in the future by improving incrementally and learning from their mistakes.

Prepare Your Team for Change Before Implementing Lean

Although Lean management is founded on the five Lean principles, you must first prepare your team, department, or even the entire business for the change before implementing it.

  • Set precise goals

First and foremost, you must define your final goal and convey it to everyone on your team. What do you want to achieve using the Lean process in your organization?

Is process optimization needed to have faster product deliveries? Are you attempting to boost your entire firm's profitability? Or perhaps you want to safeguard the future viability of your firm by making it more sustainable?

Whatever that purpose is, it must be well−defined. You can explain how you will achieve it, convince others to join you on the journey, and help them by removing roadblocks that may arise along the way.

  • Set a lean mindset

Once the implementation results have been determined, you must instill a Lean mindset in your team.

Dealing with the human component and getting everyone on board might take a lot of work. You should explain Lean to your team members and ensure they understand its benefits from an organizational and personal perspective.

Lean processes create a shared leadership environment and remove waste to provide excellent customer value. This is where your team members take on additional responsibilities and strive for continual improvement. When your coworkers realize this, they will be more inclined to welcome the change.

It is critical that you lead the change rather than manage it.

  • Begin small and discover a change agent

Start with a single team and gradually expand Lean techniques across divisions, eventually transforming your company into a Lean organization.

If you are working on a larger scale, you should construct a temporary pilot group of people from several teams who will function as change agents once they return to their original teammates.

For example, if you have an extensive R&D department with many teams that function independently, you should solicit volunteers from each group.

Selecting just people who are enthusiastic and influential in their teams is a fantastic strategy to assure that they will be effective change agents (e.g., senior members, informal leaders, etc.). After laying a solid foundation, teach the five Lean management concepts.


For a successful implementation of Lean, it is essential to have a thorough knowledge of the theory. To address queries like "How do I start a Lean project?" we recommend first learning about the 5 Lean principles. If you want to establish a Lean process in your business, you should−

  • Present the concept of Lean to your business and ensure that everyone understands the expected shift and how it will benefit everyone.

  • Begin by distinguishing between value−adding and wasteful activities.

  • On a Kanban board, depict the value stream that you provide to your customers.

  • Create a seamless flow of value delivery to your customers by removing or preventing bottlenecks in your business.

  • Only take on new work when there is a need and you have spare capacity.

  • Adopt the right culture to ensure continuous process improvement.