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6 Reasons Lean Project Management Initiatives Flop

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Jan 31, 2019 8:14:00 AM

Closeup portrait of unhappy angry mad, pissed off senior mature woman, annoyed, giving thumbs down looking with negative facial expression disapproval, isolated white background. Emotion, sign, symbolMany of the people who come to us to talk about our Lean improvement management software are not embarking on their first rodeo. In fact, in many cases, the very reason they are turning to us is that previous attempts to implement Lean project management have been disappointing.

This gives us a lot of insight into what can go wrong.

Here are some of the most common factors that lead to failure and what you can do to avoid them.

1 – People misunderstand the concept of Lean

Scores of books have been written about the Lean business management approach, but not every executive who starts a Lean initiative has a full grasp of the principles of Lean management. Some people get excited about Lean’s focus on eliminating waste and stop there. But, reducing waste is not the same as “doing more with less.” The goal of Lean is to create an unimpeded flow of value to the customer, not to reduce resources in a way that makes it more difficult for employees to do their work. Lean project management initiatives that are all about cost cutting without respect to customer value are unlikely to thrive.

Rather than focusing solely on cost and financial initiatives, leaders would do well to ask employees what changes they can make that would empower them to do their work more efficiently, successfully, and safely. This focus encourages engagement, while also turning up ideas that will inevitably improve the bottom line.

Check out this company's "What Bugs You" program for an idea of how to get started, the right way.



2 – Lack of executive support

Lean project management rarely succeeds in a vacuum, but it is remarkably effective in organizations where continuous improvement is a core value. That means that leaders must provide the necessary support and resources and set a good example. It is also essential to recognize and reward the people who are committed to the approach. While improvements can be driven from the bottom-up, Lean leadership starts at the top.

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3 – Failure to utilize supporting technology

Many Lean project management techniques can be applied without improvement software, but it is difficult to spread and sustain Lean without a platform for doing so. When all Lean projects are managed in an online, accessible solution built for the purpose, the organization creates one version of the truth. Leaders can get quick insight into the health of Lean and follow individual projects to their conclusion. The best solutions provide notifications and alerts so that progress doesn’t stall. Best of all, the immediate and long-term impact of Lean projects can be calculated and shared.


4 – Results are not widely shared

Speaking of sharing, another misstep we see if the failure to share the results of successful Lean projects with the entire organization. There is a snowball effect with positive change. Once one team or functional area sees another achieve good results, they want to get in on the action as well. When individual employees are recognized for their efforts, not only are they likely to continue to be engaged in Lean projects, their peers are as well.

5 – Employees lack training on Lean tools

When Lean project management is first introduced in an organization, we see Leaders and managers provide different levels of training. Some simply announce that Lean is the new way and hope folks figure it out, while others spend more time and effort. Obviously, the later is the most successful. If your team is going to use Lean tools like Kanban, huddle boards, DMAIC, and Kaizen events, it’s imperative that everyone knows how to use and manage them effectively. Sometimes, even leaders who do an excellent job of training the team on Lean at the outset, don’t have a good plan for introducing new employees to the approach or keeping everyone’s skills fresh.

6 – Projects aren’t aligned with the broader strategy

What if Lean project management is working fine, but no one cares? That’s what we see when Lean projects don’t impact the strategic objectives of the organization. Ideally, there are three to five long-term breakthrough goals that are clearly defined and well communicated. Lean projects should be selected based on how they impact these objectives. That way, everyone is rowing in the same direction, and everyone can get excited about successful Lean projects.

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The benefits of the Lean approach to project management are significant enough to be worth the effort to overcome these common pitfalls.

Topics: Lean

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