The Relationship between Lean Manufacturing Principles and Agile Project Management–Part 1


In John Stenbeck’s “PMI-ACP Exam Prep PLUS Desk Reference” guide, in his second chapter “Introducing Agile Project Management”, he takes on the huge topic of explaining the relationship between the development of lean manufacturing principles and the development of agile project management.    It’s important to understand this connection not only to understand the motivations behind agile project management, but also to dispel one of the common misconceptions about agile, that it is limited in its application to IT.

In this first part, let me reiterate John Stenbeck’s exposition of what the lean manufacturing principles are and the core beliefs that have evolved from them.

A.  Five Core Lean Principles

  1. Define the value the customer desires.
  2. For each product, identify the value stream that provides customer value.
  3. Challenge all of the wasted steps not directly providing customer value and remove them, so that the remaining value-added steps flow continuously through to the product.
  4. Use “pulling” (production based on actual demand) between steps to create continuous flow.
  5. Continuously move toward perfection by reducing the number of steps, and the amount of time and information needed, to provide the customer value.

“Lean thinking” based on these core lean principles started in manufacturing, but the tools and principles were adapted into other application areas or settings such as

  • service sector
  • healthcare
  • construction
  • non-profit
  • public sector

B. Six Lean Core Beliefs

The five core lean principles evolved into the six lean core beliefs which are articulated as follows (again, thanks to John Stenbeck for his thorough exposition).

  1. Measure of success for any system or process = the amount of time between when ideas come in and when value is received by the customer.
  2. Any ad hoc (undefined) system or process will produce unacceptable delay in customer value because it cannot be analyzed and improved upon.   Processes must be defined in order to improve customer value.
  3. Most process errors are caused by the system, not operator error (i.e., by people who work in the system.
  4. The goal is to optimize the whole system, not merely individual steps.   Rather than optimizing the efficiency of each individual step, it is better to look at when the steps occur (i.e., the transitions between the steps).
  5. Management must work with the team in order for the system to improve.
  6. Teams are most efficient when the amount of work expected is within their capacity; efficiency is best improved by minimizing the amount of non-value or low-value work in any process.

These core beliefs of lean thinking became a paradigm for agile project development.    How this process occurred is the subject of the next post (Part 2).

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