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Lean and Project Management Can Live Peacefully Together, and Other Lessons from ITMPI

03/12/2016 1:50 PM | Deleted user

On Thursday evening, I attended a panel discussion held by our chapter’s sponsor, ITMPI, on Lean, project management, Agile and whether they can a) achieve anything meaningful and b)peacefully coexist. The short answer is yes to both.

The longer answer was the content of a 90 minute panel presentation by four distinguished and accomplished gentlemen who have made careers making projects and teams work together for the betterment of the business –whatever that business may be.

Our ATD Eastern PA chapter is sponsored this year by the IT Metrics & Productivity Institute (ITMPI), a project of CAI. ITMPI holds monthly dinners with speakers and panels, and our members are invited to attend. Click here to learn more.

When you’ve spent time in training and talent development, you’ve spent plenty of time meeting deadlines, trying to do it within budget and working to align the resources at hand to make it happen. Some trainers are accidental project managers. In fact, most leaders and people responsible for the outcome of any deliverable have met project management.

Lean and Agile are two ways to align resources, move projects forward and meet expectations. However, Lean – which originated in manufacturing as a way of aligning people and processes in a continuous improvement cycle – and Agile – which originated in software development as a continuous product development methodology – require flexibility. Both respond to changing states to achieve the next best level of performance or next best iteration of a product. Lean and Agile methodologies have both expanded to live in all parts of the business.

Contrasted to the constant state of change encouraged by Lean and Agile thinking, project management comes from aligning a given set of resources to achieve a specific objective on a timeline developed to meet a static endpoint or deadline.

Can a stodgy practice like traditional project management coexist with the flexibility and continuous improvement cycles inherent in Lean thinking or Agile development cycles?

Sure, according to the panel. Dale Hecht, Lean Director of Lehigh Valley Health Network, Joel Gross who implemented Lean processes in vaccine manufacturing at Merck and Sanofi, and Te Wu, of Project Management Institute, all agreed that systems and people can be aligned to continuously improve products and processes.

Jack Bowen, former CIO of PPL International, probed the panelists for answers about how to best use these different methodologies to maximize their potential.

The key to success is to lead projects with humility and to make sure you are putting the people before the processes, said LVHN’s Dale Hecht.

“High performing organizations tie it all together,” said Hecht.

Gross, who writes thekaizone.com blog, said Lean success rates are abysmally low, and have historically been unimpressive. He said some of the problem with uptake is that people don’t really understand Lean.

“People think Lean is a set of tools. Tools improve processes. But Lean is something we achieve with our minds, not our tools. Lean is when you look at the gap between what happened and what should have happened, analyze the gap and improve next time,” he said. “You close the gaps – everybody, every day. Everybody thinks and learns, and can improve.”

Hecht said, “Tools and systems drive behaviors. Systems and behaviors sync to drive results. . . ask yourself, do your systems drive the right behaviors?”

Te Wu of PMI admitted that the continuous improvement plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle creates tension with the project management mindset of static resources and deadlines. But yes, they can peacefully coexist.

Wu said you don’t have to be perfect to achieve something. You just have to be good enough. “Ask yourself, what can you apply minimally.”

I encourage our ATD Eastern PA members to look at the list of topics at the monthly ITMPI meetings and see what the organization offers.


ATD Eastern PA Chapter
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