Tuesday, April 19, 2011

3 Lean Coaching Tactics for Project Managers

I'm fortunate to be a project manager who works almost exclusively on lean/six sigma projects.  I say fortunate, because it gives me the chance to be a lean coach, as well as a project manager.  Of course, it's challenging to try to mix in lean coaching within a traditional project management setting.

Anybody who has sat for the PMP Exam or perused the PMBOK knows that traditional project management as a field of study is very, very light on lean/agile concepts.  So, as a project manager who loves lean coaching, I get to find creative ways to sprinkle in some lean learning throughout my projects.  Here are three tactics I utilize:
  1. Genchi Genbutsu...In traditional project management, we might be tempted to accept whatever project assumptions are indicated on the project charter.  But as a lean coach, we should encourage our project team to go to the gemba and see for ourselves.  We don't rely on data either; we prefer facts, observed with our own eyes when possible.
  2. Small-Batch PDCA...In traditional project management utilizing the 'waterfall' approach, we might be tempted to get a big batch of project planning done, then move into the project execution phase and execute a big batch of deliverables.  But as a lean coach, we should encourage our project team to instead perform many turns of the PDCA wheel, constantly testing, constantly iterating, in small batches of planning and execution.  This has all sorts of benefits, one of the biggest being we get a chance to uncover flaws in our plan much quicker than with 'waterfall.'
  3. Visual Collaboration...In traditional project management, we might be tempted to conduct meetings the old-fashioned way, relying mostly on verbal discussion and taking notes down on paper.  But as a lean coach, we should encourage our project team to utilize visual collaboration techniques.  Use whiteboards, sticky notes, flip charts, etc. to visualize topics of discussion.  Once we visualize the discussion, we can structure it into affinity diagrams, fishbone diagrams, or whatever structure makes sense.  You can't do that if the discussion vanishes into thin air or is only captured on our individual note pads.
Utilizing these tactics and several others, we are able to sprinkle in a little lean into all of our projects.  This will not only help us project managers on our projects, but it will also help our project team members in their day-to-day.