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The Rules of Lean Project Management: Part 2

This is my second blog entry on the main rules of Lean Project Management, as I see them. It is somewhat linked to the first one, the “Last Planner” rule which says: “The one who executes the work is the one who plans the work.”

What type of work should the Last Planner plan to execute ensure the success of his/her part of the project? The Lean Construction Institute[1] proposes a very simple answer to this question. Projects can be successfully managed by planning and executing reliable promises. What are reliable promises? They are small deliverables that one agrees to complete in a very small timeframe, usually on a weekly basis. This is done for the ongoing project phase/stage and, if we really know what we are doing (according to rolling wave planning principles[2]), it is usually possible to cut the project into more manageable tiny bits. This approach, known as the Percent Plan/Promises Complete (PPC) is a mix of:

  • The agile software development “timeboxing”[3] approach, applied on an individual basis and
  • Earned value management using deliverables realised as a measure of project performance achievement, the ultimate seeing is believing measure.

Cutting projects into very small promises that we can literally see at the end of each week is effective in at least three ways:

  • First, you are in a position to see rapidly tangible progress on the project
  • Second, you can also quickly see when the project is getting off track and correct the course while time and cost variances are still small enough to be correctable.
  • Third, according to research by Goldratt, among others, productivity is greatly improved since reduces the time for the Last Planner where to pick up the work still to do after being interrupted. The work then has to be rescheduled to meet timelines. According to some time management studies, people spend in average close to 50% of their workweek on not-planned-for urgent work that comes in the form of frequent interruptions, frequent meaning on average every 30 minutes. Sound familiar?

Using weekly PPC as a measure of progress also has the advantage of giving early feedback about how and where to improve project delivery performance. Some empirical data[4] show instances where project teams managed to increase their PPC from 50 % at the start of a project to more than 80% within a 10 to 12 week timeframe, which is the equivalent of a 60% increase in speed of delivery.

Tracking small deliverables is very simple to do and does not require a complex reporting system (computing timesheets, project expenses, etc.) to accomplish. In all the things I propose, this is also the one approach that the vast majority of participants in my workshops like the most and want to put into place in their organization as soon as possible. And frankly, I believe that if you stick to delivering those small promises, and succeed most of the time, you will discover when you receive your “hours spent and/or incurred costs” report (usually containing one-month old obsolete data), that you are on budget. You already know that you are on time, because you see the promises coming out every week.

So LPM rule No. 2 is: “Do not track time (effort) or cost; track small promises that you can see over time”

And if you want to put together your PPC system fast, there is help available. Just read Hal Macomber’s excellent article “Securing Reliable Promises on Projects”[5] and you will be up and running fast-delivery projects successfully in no time at all.


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