Characteristics of Lean Project Management

Lean project management has several key characteristics. It relies on cross-functional teams that work in short iterations and uses an incremental approach to development. It focuses strongly on customer value and business priorities and strives for continuous improvement. These characteristics are the main differences to those of more traditional project management approaches. We will explain the main characteristic of lean project management in this article.

Characteristics of Cross-functional teams

A cross-functional team consists of team members from different functional areas. The team members have different areas and levels of expertise. In cross-functional teams, the members can draw on each other’s strengths and support each other throughout the project.
In traditional project management, a project manager passes decisions down to team members. In lean project management, team members have the expertise to make decisions themselves—which allows for rapid responses.

The team has a good understanding of the project because they’re involved from start to end.
Another benefit is that they are committed to the project through self-empowerment and can respond appropriately and quickly.

Short and long iterations
An iteration is a repeatable cycle in a process. Iterations allow faster feedback loops and faster modifications before system deployment. The lean project management development approach makes use of iterations.

The typical duration of an iteration depends on the business’ needs. It usually lasts two to four weeks and projects typically go through a number of iterations before delivery of the entire set of product features. After each iteration, customers can provide feedback and are able to counteract wrong developments.

Using short iterations enables agile teams to build in improvements frequently and, when they're identified, address changes or errors sooner than in a long iteration. On the downside, a team cannot deliver as many features in a short iteration than in a long iteration.

Similar changes could be difficult or impossible to incorporate if the customer reviewed the product only after a team has already spent three months developing it. That’s why iterations make sense and support quality standards.

Incremental approach
An incremental development strategy enables a product to grow in planned stages, called ‘increments’. Parts of the product are developed at different times based on feature priority and may be implemented in the form of releases throughout the project development cycle.
In lean project management, these increments are a selection of prioritized product features and developed per iteration. The stakeholder has control of what is being developed and in which order.

For example, a customer wants to update his customer relationship management system. The first increment of work might involve developing all functionality required for client number tracking, and the second might involve tasks related to adding core data and relations of interactions. After each increment is completed, a releasable functionality is developed. This differs from a traditional approach, in which the customer waits until all planned work has been completed before getting a chance to review an end product. This is often associated with long development schedules, inability to change, and high risk that the final product won’t meet customer standards.

Customer value and business priorities
In lean project management, product features with the highest customer value get the highest priorities and are developed first. The progress is measured in terms of each feature’s readiness for review and deployment by the customer. Other project management methods typically track progress based on the completion of phases, such as design or coding. The design phase may be complete but no deliverable is ready for the customer to review. Meeting milestones on schedule, instead of developing a fully functional product feature, becomes a priority in lean project management.

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