April 20, 2014

More Lean(er) project management, part 3

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We’re in the midst of talking about Lean concepts and project management. Last time out, I discussed Lean’s concepts of wasted Motion and Inventory and how they related it to the habits of running from useless meeting to useless meeting and the potential dangers of disrupting a project’s flow by finishing tasks early.In the 3rd part installment of this series, I’m going to talk about how the wastes of Transportation and Defects materialize in projects.

To remind everyone, here are Lean’s 8 wastes:

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


In the manufacturing setting, Transportation has to do with the movement of materials or unfinished products from one location to another without adding any value to those materials & products. In the project environment, the thing that typically moves from place to place unnecessarily is information.

The ease and comfort of various IT toolsets tends to lead to this waste and, generally, make it worse.  One of the major advantages of all those applications, computers, servers, etc. is that vast amounts of data can be moved rapidly from place to place.  Unfortunately, what this tends to lead  to, is the all-too-common situation of expending resources to make unnecessary processes go very, very fast.

Email blasters are an obvious indication of transportation waste in the project environment.  When EVERYONE is copied on an email, without regard for who needs that specific information exactly when, the information contained in the email is carried, needlessly, to unnecessary destinations. While the impact to servers and routers may be very small, any waste is still a waste, and forcing people to sift through the flood of non-value-added information causes distractions and wasted time.

Similarly, when files are sent out to a shared folder for all who have access to see, without forethought as to who, and how, and why that information will be used, the information contained therein is simply bouncing around the network.  Simply because it’s moving doesn’t mean that it’s adding value.

To remedy this, make sure your project team has individual, isolated areas for working files that are segregated from “official” documents to be shared by all.  Also, encourage more ad-hoc, one-on-0ne, face-to-face communications in any way that you can, in order to keep the email blasters at bay.


This is probably the most intuitive of Lean’s wastes.  Defects are, obviously, any product that does not meet a standard.  If the performance of the item you have just produced isn’t doesn’t meet the customer’s desires, you’ve got defects.  Defects usually have to do with poor quality, rework, and scrap.

In the project environment, providing inputs to the next task in sequence that don’t meet the necessary entry criteria is just one example of a defect.  I’ve seen one group produce something that didn’t meet the entry criteria, and then indicate that they satisfied their own exit criteria, so the next task’s entry criteria must be wrong!  When task managers fail to see the owner of the next, downstream task as a customer, defects are likely to occur.

In order to prevent defects, make sure those who are responsible for executing the tasks in a predecessor / successor relationship get on the same page early and often.  Things always change while trying to execute a project, especially in development environments where the path to the goal is uncertain.  As requirements change, entry and exit criteria must also change.  If one party in the exchange of information unilaterally determines that a change in requirements is in order, the project as a whole will suffer from this gap in expectations.

Keep your team communicating not just vertically, but horizontally as well, through regular, frequent communications and make sure you implement the necessary controls to highlight downstream issues as early as possible.  Expending a little extra effort up front can eliminate the need to expend enormous amounts later on – often when it’s too late to correct the problem.

Next up:  The wastes of Overprocessing and Overproduction

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