People and organizations all over the world continue to embrace and adopt “Lean Management Principles” in their work. What started with Edward Deming in the 1950s and later found its way into the Toyota Production System has now made inroads into software development. You will notice that IT organizations and software development teams often talk about “Lean” software development or “Kanban” as it pertains to how they work. It is therefore essential that today’s Project Management Office (PMO) understand this old new way of project execution in order to stay relevant in today’s business climate.
Before we go any further, let us first understand what Lean is all about and whether PMOs should embrace this concept as well. Lean in a nutshell, is a set of tools that help in the identification and elimination of waste. As waste is eliminated, quality improves, consequently, reducing time and cost of production. While elimination of waste can seem to be a simple subject, it is often easier said than done. Organizations often have a difficulty classifying a process or activity as waste and often tend to be conservative when identifying/defining waste. Toyota defines Lean as the reduction of three types of waste:
- Non-value-adding work
- Inconsistency/Unevenness as it pertains to flow of work
Lean aims to make the work simple enough to understand, execute and manage, and I believe that all PMOs should strive for this. Let us now get down to brass stacks and examine how a PMO could strive to be Lean. Here are some steps a PMO could take:
- Prioritize projects based on business value. A project is a vehicle for change in an organization, which means that the business does not like the current state it is in and constantly evolves to move to a new state. Be willing to question the assumptions that drive any decision to change and make sure that the scope of the project is in line with the desired change/objective. This will help PMOs avoid/eliminate non-value-adding work.
- Keep the internal PMO processes simple to start with and make changes as you mature. This will help the Project Managers and the PMO director to focus on delivering business outcomes rather than following mundane procedures.
- Level out the workload among the Project Managers so that they can provide each project the required attention. Take the help of automation tools such as Project Portfolio Management software to help with collaboration, resource management, project prioritization, and reporting.
- Use a “pull” system as your project intake process. In such a system, the sponsor of the project would place an initial project request. This request in-turn would trigger a project prioritization request, which in turn triggers subsequent requests (such as resource request). This will encourage a “just-in-time” process and will discourage a “just-in-case” process (common in a “push” system) wherein resources are often under-utilized.
To conclude, as projects and project executions take on a lean posture, it is imperative that PMOs do so as well. With this blog I have just scratched the surface of the lean PMO concept. Stay tuned for more! In the meantime, I welcome your comments and feedback.