Tips for an agile leader

from lean to agile project management

By Pablo Lledó, PMP, MBA, MSc

Introduction

Companies need to improve their projects by using an approach other than the traditional project management approach. Traditional project management has very few problems: permanent environmental changes, lack of project management knowledge, lack of time management, lots of multitasking, and so forth.

Lean thinking defines a technique to make projects more efficient. This philosophy was founded in the 1990s and was mostly applied to massive production projects; moreover, in 2001, software developers defined the approach now known as Agile software development.

From these two philosophies—Lean and Agile—we will discuss tips, which will help project managers manage efficient projects, but not just for the production or IT sectors, but also, for whatever kind of projects they manage. The tips for an Agile leader provide a practical approach to managing projects, taking into account effective project management tools.

The Lean Approach

“Lean thinking,” “lean production,” and “lean project management” are terms used to define a technique to make projects more efficient. This philosophy was born in the 1990s at Toyota and was mostly applied to massive production projects.

This philosophy gained the attention of many academic experts around the world. These academicians (e.g., J. P. Womack, D. T. Jones, and D. Roos) studied the Japanese processes and put the concepts into the five following lean principles (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2009):

  1. Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer by product family.
  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating, whenever possible, those steps that do not create value.
  3. Make the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence, so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer.
  4. As flow is introduced, let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
  5. As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced; begin the process again and continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.

Since the introduction of this methodology, many studies, books, and articles have applied lean thinking concepts to international companies.

The fundamental idea of the concept “lean” is that there cannot be “waste.” The main source of failure in projects originates from this lack of “accuracy” (i.e., in the presence of waste, which does not generate value).

Two “opposite” words define much of this approach to project management: “value” and “waste.” In simple terms, this approach is intended to maximize value and eliminate waste; in addition, this thought fits in the modern stream to find the value of projects, not in the minds of their designers, but in the minds of end users and customers.

The Agile Approach

In 2001, software developers published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development to define the approach now known as Agile software development (Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler M. et al., 2001):

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Twelve principles underlie the Agile Manifesto, including:

  1. Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
  3. Working software is delivered frequently (in weeks rather than months)
  4. Working software is the principal measure of progress
  5. Sustainable development, which is able to maintain a constant pace
  6. Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  7. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  8. Projects are built around motivated individuals who should be trusted
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  10. Simplicity
  11. Self-organizing teams
  12. Regular adaptation to changing circumstances

Tips for an Agile Leader

From the two philosophies of Lean and Agile, we will discuss tips for project managers, which will help them create efficient projects, not just for the production and IT sectors, but also for whatever kind of projects they work on. The following 10 tips will be discussed during the presentation (Lledó, 2006):

  1. Don’t add waste to projects
  2. You must respect client deliverables
  3. Don’t waste time during meetings
  4. Don’t forget risk project management
  5. Take away traditional methods
  6. Avoid long written texts, instead use figures
  7. Don’t re-invent the wheel, start from standard processes
  8. Manage reserves and turns, avoiding long lines.
  9. Don’t forget critical resources
  10. Sanctify project prioritization

References

Lean Enterprise Institute, (2009) Principles of Lean Retreived from http://www.lean.org/WhatsLean/Principles.cfm

Lledó, Pablo (2006) y otros, Administración Lean de Proyectos, Pearson Prentice Hall: Mexico.

Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler M. et al. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development Retrieved from www.agilemanifesto.org

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2011 Pablo Lledó, PMP®
Originally published as part of proceedings PMI Global Congress 2011 – Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas

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