April 18, 2014

More Lean(er) project management, part 2

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Last time out, I discussed Lean’s concept of Waiting as one of the 8 wastes and related it to task delays in the project management world. This time, I’d like to discuss the wastes of Motion and Inventory as they pertain to projects.


To recap, Lean’s 8 wastes are:

  1. Waiting
  2. Motion
  3. Inventory
  4. Transportation
  5. Defects
  6. Overprocessing
  7. Overproduction
  8. Wasted human creativity

On the factory floor, motion has to do with unnecessary movement – sitting, bending, lifting, reaching, turning, twisting – in order to perform the operations required to complete a task. How does the waste of added motion materialize in the project management environment?

There are simple, ergonomic examples, where people may have poorly laid out desks that require more movement than is necessary. Some point to “moving” between multiple screens in software applications that might not be necessary.

In my opinion, however, the waste of Motion in project teams comes in a simple, much-maligned practice that we just can’t seem to shake: The massive, overwhelming volume of Meetings.

Meetings are a waste of motion in that getting up from the desk and heading to a conference room , near or far, just to share communications that most people in the room don’t need, or want, is utterly useless. Not only does attending the meeting, for most of its participants, waste resources by interrupting their value-added work, but the travel time back and forth to separate meeting rooms is also a waste.

Most meetings are held due to poor communication practices. Instead of information flowing freely to those who need it, it is batched and queued until it becomes necessary to call a meeting. A much better practice is to have regular, frequent and immediate interaction with project team members, vertically and horizontally, in order to quickly communicate, detect problems, identify solutions, and immediately take action. Otherwise, people spend enormous amounts of time travelling back and forth to conference rooms creating little value, if any. What they do accomplish in these meetings, in most cases, could have been accomplished with a few short informal conversations among the relevant team members.


Inventory may be defined as:

  1. material goods that have been purchased in advance of their actual need, or
  2. Work-In-Process (WIP) items that are not yet complete

Either of these results in tied-up capital that can’t be delivered, sold, and turned into revenues and profits.  To overcome this waste, one of the techniques manufacturing develops is Just-in-time (JIT).  JIT moves material from each process in the overall system to the next, in order to minimize the amount of material on hand.

In the project management environment, it is often seen as a good thing to work ahead and deliver early or build up schedule reserve.  Unfortunately, doing so could create a situation where the inputs to downstream processes are stockpiled, or “completed” before other, parallel tasks.  Depending on your contract type, this can have negative consequences for your organization’s cash flow, resource availability, or, in the worst case, the work products resulting from those early tasks are out of synch with later developments, requiring them to be re-worked.

Many times, and especially in projects where Earned Value Managements Systems are used, tasks are considered to be complete early on in order to make the Cost and Schedule Performance Indices (CPI and SPI) stats look better.  Unfortunately, all this does is mask underlying problems and increase the risks to both cost and schedule performance due to rework.

To minimize and, hopefully, eliminate inventory wastes, there are a few things project teams can do:

1.  Resource load your  project schedules. Work done ahead of time may be in response to resource constraints (i.e., individuals area available now, but won’t be later, so we have to get what we can out of them while they’re available.)  This is a common problem, and one that may be beyond the individual project manager’s capabilities.  Nonetheless, knowing exactly what time frame a specific resource will be required, and for how long, will help the larger enterprises as a whole identify resource issues, and help the individual project manager negotiate with other projects and find the optimal time for work to be accomplished.

2.  Optimize your schedule slack. Just because you can accomplish a task now, doesn’t mean that you should. Be aware of what an early completion does to the rest of the tasks in your project plan.  Extending some task durations might be move valuable in the long run than getting as much done as early as possible.

3.  Be aware of cash flows.  Maintain positive cash whenever possible. It’s instinctive to get as much done as fast as possible, however, if you are on a project team where cash is not collected until some point further downstream, you could be putting your project in a bad financial situation.  Getting chewed out by someone in the finance chain might be a good indicator that you’re getting a little ahead of yourself.

Coming up next:  The wastes of Transportation and Defects.

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