Lean project management originated in Japan with Toyota, who developed the Toyota Production System. Like many project management methods, it was developed for use on the manufacturing floor; however, it is now applied to many other functions.

The overall purpose of lean project management is to improve processes and reduce waste. This helps to make the project team more efficient and effective in their delivery, and leads to overall improvement, thus proving better value for the consumer.

The five Principles

Within lean project management, there are five principles:


When developing a product or service, the main objective is to bring value to the consumer, this value determines what the consumer will pay.

Once value has been established, a top-down target price can be determined so that the required consumer value can be delivered at the highest profit level.

Value streams 

The next step is to map out the whole life cycle of the project, from raw materials through to disposal.

Understanding the product’s journey will help to identify what value is added at each stage of the process, and allow for the reduction or elimination of unnecessary waste. Any aspect of the process that doesn’t add value should be removed.

For more information take a look at Value Stream Mapping (VSM).


Now that waste has been removed, the value stream should flow without any interruptions. Any stoppages in the flow will lead to waste.


The traditional manufacturing approach works by pushing work through the process based on schedules and forecasts of what consumers will need. Lean management works by pulling work through the process, only manufacturing products when the consumer orders them. To achieve this there must be efficient communication and a high level of flexibility.


The pursuit of perfection drives lean management. Although pure perfection is, realistically, unachievable, the process of continuous development addresses causes of quality problems and waste and seeks to improve the process each time incrementally.

Popular Lean Project Management Methodologies

There are three main methodologies in lean management:

Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma reduces the waste in time and resources by identifying the problem causing issues in the project management process.

It has five stages:

  • Define – the scope and goals of the project are identified and features that the consumer will value are identified.
  • Measure – the measures used to quantify success throughout the project are determined.
  • Explore – ways in which the completion of the project can be improved are explored.
  • Develop – once the scope and goals of the project are identified, a plan is developed.
  • Implement – finally, the project can be launched and implemented.

You can find more information in the article Overview of Six Sigma Project Management.

Deming Cycle

When working on recurring projects, the Deming Cycle is particularly useful. Also referred to as PDCA, it is used for controlling and the continual improvement of processes.

It has four stages:

  • Planning – after assessing current processes, weak areas are identified, and managers explore how to improve them.
  • Do – after exploration solutions are developed.
  • Check – data gathered during the do stage is evaluated and used to make improvements.
  • Act – the improvements are implemented.

For more information visit Overview of the Deming Cycle.


Kanban, meaning ‘card’ or ‘visual sign’ in Japanese, uses a board with cards with the aim of improving project management processes.

Work progresses from left to right through three columns which represent different stages of tasks:

  • To do
  • Doing
  • Done

This gives a visual representation of how the project is progressing. A full overview of the Kanban methodology can be found in the article Overview of Kanban Process for Project Management.

Advantages of lean project management

Improved visibility

Particularly in the case of Kanban, there is greater visibility of how the project is progressing and who is responsible for each task.

Increased staff morale

Clearly visible project progress keeps motivation high amongst staff who understand where they fit in the project and the importance of their contribution.

Greater control

Risks and resources are managed effectively as access to knowledge ensures that better decisions are made. The system therefore, becomes more responsive.

Higher consumer satisfaction

Working to continuously improve the process and decision-making capabilities will result in higher quality goods, produced in a quicker time frame. This inevitably results in happier consumers who’s needs are met.

Higher profits

High quality goods will achieve repeat business from consumers and build the organisation’s reputation in the marketplace. Add this to processes which are streamlined and make use of the pull method, and profits are likely to rise.

Disadvantages of lean project management

Dependence on suppliers

The pull method of lean project management means that limited resources are kept to hand. This means that organisations have a heavy reliance on their suppliers, and their ability to deliver materials to them quickly as demand dictates. Any disruption can have serious consequences.

Aversion to change

Managers may encounter resistance to change from employees who are used to other project management practices. Introducing lean management practices requires a complete overhaul, and so managers must be transparent about changes, patient, and allow time for enquiries from staff.

Expensive to implement

If an organisation has never used lean processes before then it is likely that they will incur high costs to implement new systems and processes, and to provide staff training.


Managers will need to identify what should be incorporated into lean project management and what shouldn’t. It can be tempting to overhaul every aspect of the process straight away rather than make changes incrementally.

The key to lean project management is to provide more value to consumers whilst reducing waste. If this is realised then processes will be streamlined, consumers will be happy and profits will soar.