Lean Project Leadership

Lean Project Leadership – A Local Case Study

By: Michael Burchett

During a local church’s recent service project, a small group of people volunteered to move a large pile of rocks from a broken stone fence down the road to a storage space. In addition, the mortar that was between the rocks needed to be transported to the dumpster because it was not required to be stored. A large truck waited to transport the rocks from where the fence once stood to the area where they would be unloaded.

This process, although of charitable intentions, was filled with several forms of waste.

About 15-20 people bent down and starting hurling the rocks onto the trucks, which posed a safety threat to everyone on-site. There was waste in the form of waiting as several people couldn’t get to the rock pile due to the traffic. At the same time due to space constraints, half of the people didn’t have room to bend down to get to the rocks and make a contribution to the project at all. Those that were working had to move around to avoid bumping into others or hitting them with their hurling rocks. Some of the inactive people began using two wheelbarrows to transport the mortar to the trash, moving just half-full loads in order to make an on-going contribution. This resulted in wasted transportation and wasted motion as people were trying to avoid one another and thus taking longer, meandering paths from the rock pile to the truck.

Lean Project Leadership http://www.wrike.com/projectmanagement

As a lean project leader, one of your primary functions will be to train your nose to sniff out the waste in your project. People get so involved in their daily work that it becomes difficult to see the things that might seem obvious to others. From an outside perspective the rock-moving project might have seemed scatterbrained and it might have looked a bit ridiculous, but the operators were too close to see the inefficiencies. It took someone stopping for a second, backing up, and realizing that there was a better way.

Once this check and adjusting occurred in the case of the service project, the waste in the process started to reduce. The people waiting moved between the pile of rocks and the truck so that the people picking the rocks could hand them to the next person in the line. The waste of motion reduced as the pickers weren’t moving around and bumping into each other anymore on the way to the truck, nor were they hurling rocks over the heads of everyone else. The waste of waiting was removed because the people who were waiting now had a job that contributed significantly to the value of the project. The pickers were also in charge of sorting out the mortar and placing it in the closer of two wheelbarrows, and one person was dedicated to taking the full wheelbarrows to the trash. Because this was reduced to one person, the transportation waste was reduced as well.

Live Where You Lead

The person who stepped up as a project leader in this case was not appointed as such; it was someone who was working on the project and felt the pain of the inefficiencies. Metrics and reports have their place, but they can’t tell the whole story. If someone were to hand these volunteers a report that said their output was less than ideal, it would help motivate them towards improvements but it wouldn’t point out how to improve. What helped was having people who experienced the inefficiencies and trained themselves to react to them.

Ask “How Can I Help?”

As a lean project leader you need to make yourself available. It is your job to continually have one finger on the pulse of the project so that you can assess and maintain project health. Every project has potential breakdowns and a lean leader ensures that when gaps exist between planned and actual that they can step in and ask the operator how he or she can help.

Multiply Yourself

The lean project leader fosters a lean culture. They challenge their co-workers and operators to continually look for waste in the process, and ask how they can help the rest of the team when there is enough bandwidth to do so. In the service project, as volunteers improved the processes, the lean leadership multiplied. Soon more and more people were seeking the elimination of waste and supporting each other along the way. The volunteers were allotted four hours to complete the project, but thanks to lean project leadership practices the project was completed in two and a half hours, leaving them free to take on another project before packing up and going home for the day.

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

blog author

LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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