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Lean Project Management

Lean Project Management

The phrase Lean Project Management is an adoption from lean manufacturing which is focused in eliminating waste. Lean Manufacturing methods were developed by Toyota from studying the work process in supermarkets fulfilling stock needs. The supermarkets were able to fill the shelves with just enough product to keep the consumer happy and enough stock to keep shop owner happy. Toyota wanted to replicate this in their factories so they assigned Taiichi Ohno one of their engineers to implement it. This is in turn created lean manufacturing and the word Kanban was used by Toyota to describe the process. The word Kanban translates to signboard in Japanese (When Toyota brought the concept to the factory the workers used to deliver a card or “kanban” to each other to signal that they have capacity to pull more materials).

The core principles of Lean Thinking were created by Mary and Tom Poppendicks is as follows:

  1. Eliminate Waste
  2. Optimizing the Whole
  3. Delivering Fast
  4. Building in Quality
  5. Respecting People
  6. Constant Improvement

Kanban Framework

Lean manufacturing is the basis for Lean Software Development which is the basis for Kanban. Kanban is a framework for managing flow of materials or information. Kanban matches amount of work to a teams capacity giving them more flexible planning options, faster output and transparency throughout the development cycle. Kanban has one main tool the Kanban Board, which augments the traditional Iteration Backlog with additional detail by including the development steps/processes as well as introducing work limits per queue.

Even though Kanban doesn’t define a full agile life cycle it has gained popularity as it replaces the Iteration Backlog and can adapt to change a lot quicker. It is also been used by companies new to Agile as it can fit in with their current process without much interruption. Kanban works best with:

  • Small tasks that don’t warrant a story.
  • Support team as it prevents overloading team members with work and they can just pick up next tasks on top of the queue.

Lean Project Management History

Lean Development Methodology has stood the test of time in a variety of industries using the Just-In-Time principle the key to its success. 

1940’s Toyota Six Rules

From studying supermarkets process of providing just what the customer needed not too much or too little, also supermarkets only had enough stock for what they needed. Toyota wanted to apply the idea of self-stocking shelves to their factory. An industrial engineer called Taiichi Ohno created these 6 rules to help achieve this:

  1. Later process picks up the number of items indicated by the kanban at the earlier process.
  2. Earlier process produces items in the quantity and sequence indicated by the kanban.
  3. No items are made or transported without a kanban.
  4. Always attach a kanban to the goods.
  5. Defective products are not sent on to the subsequent process. The result is 100% defect-free goods.
  6. Reducing the number of kanban increases the sensitivity.

Kanban aligns inventory levels with actual assumption.

1990’s Lean

Bob Charette Article http://www.agilistapm.com/overview-of-leanagile-methods/

2003 Lean Software Development

Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck wrote Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit where they defined 7 principles:

  1. Eliminate waste
  2. Amplify learning
  3. Decide as late as possible
  4. Deliver as fast as possible
  5. Empower the team
  6. Build integrity in
  7. See the whole

2009 Scrumban

One of the earliest controbutions to adapting Kanban to software development was in Corey Ladas Scrumban

2010 Kanban

David Anderson was one of the first to define Kanban for IT and software development in his book Kanban. He defined 4 basic principles:

  1. Start with existing processes
  2. Agree to pursue incremental,evolutionary change
  3. Respect current process, roles, responsibilities and titles
  4. Leadership at all levels

2013 Open Kanban

Joesph Hurtado introduced Open Kanban an open source Agile and Lean methodology.

Kanban Development Methodology Framework

Most project can be viewed as a process to achieve a desired result. Kanban is a tool for managing the process and manage the optimal flow of work within the project. There are 3 rules to implement Kanban..

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Rule #1: Visual Workflow

A visual representation of the process is key for success especially with more complexed processes. To create the visual representation you need to determine the workflow of the tasks to complete the project. For software development a simple example workflow would be…

Analyse -> Design -> Develop -> Test -> Release

These would then get their own columns in the Kanban board. After you have created the Kanban board you need to set limits to each column.

Rule #2: Limit Work in Process (WIP)

The Work-In-Process (WIP) is the limit of tasks for each column. The concept is that only a number of things can be worked on at the same time to be done well. There is always an optimal amount of work that can be processed regardless of team size, organization etc. The lower the WIP the quicker bottlenecks or pain points in the process will be revealed but if too low the team will ignore them and learn nothing. Moderate WIP limits is a good compromise with a resilient team to the new process.

Rule #3: Measure and Improve

Similar to other Agile Methodologies improving the process is a constant process and based on metrics. The key metric in Kanban is the WIP and the manager should be focused on looking for the optimal WIP to get the team to reach their maximum potential. Another metric that is brought to light from Kanban boards is the cycle time to complete a task and also the manager should be looking to reduce.

More Information on Kanban Development Methodology

For more information on Kanban check out the below video…

Recommended Lean Project Management Development Resources






Shane Drumm

Shane is an Agile Project Manager who specialises in digital web projects. He has worked with numerous distributed teams in Asia, Europe, US and Australia. In his spare time, enjoy travelling, cycling, digital start-up ventures and hustling to help other business owners with their digital presence. Find out more about Shane on shanedrumm.com and please reach out and connect with Shane on LinkedIn.


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