Ideally, projects are one offs, with a clear beginning, end and budget, which are run smoothly and briefly from inception to completion, by dedicated, motivated and focussed teams who work in flow, delivering great breakthrough results, thrilling their target groups, beneficiaries, partners, sponsors and donors.
Project management has improved considerably over the last few years. Now most organizations have a structured and standardized method to plan or run their projects: Goal Oriented Project Planning, Metaplan and Logframe, or Prince 2, to name just a few of them. And at least one software package to support the project admin.
Project teams are deploying proven concepts, such as starting with a project kick off, setting up requirement documents, slicing up the project in different phases, working with phase related budgets, focussing on output, outcome or impact (rather than throughput and activities), installing milestones and go/ no go decisions, freezing the scope of project execution, running risk analyses…
Yet, project management remains a challenge, resulting in frustration of donor organization(s), project officers and boards, partner organizations, team members, stakeholders, target groups and beneficiaries:
- Before Project Start, months can be spent on writing and editing numerous revisions of a final project document, often with many negotiations on different levels along the way (each of these leading to further reviewing and editing). Project proposals, contracts, terms of reference, terms and conditions are made up and revised, again and again.
- During project execution, team members are often busy chasing after one another, for parts which they need, in order to deliver their contribution to the whole. When these parts are not good enough or incomplete, or just not what was expected, they’ll have to send them back – and wait again. Requirements for reporting back to the donor agencies, are demanding. So much so, that often a project manager is hired, especially to guard deadlines and commitments, and to chase after all stakeholders. Work typically builds up towards the end: the project deadline. When urgency increases, all the piled up work needs to be done at once. This goes hand in hand with built up stress. Overwork is the rule rather than the exception.
- Upon completion of a project, the results are rarely entirely satisfying. Either the wishes of target groups or donors have changed considerably along the way. Or the project simply isn’t quite ready yet. Or budgets are not met. Sometimes disputes on responsibilities, costs and claims are the main characteristics of the end stage of projects.
This pattern of execution is seen in many project environments: in research & development, product development, experiments, educational campaigns, extension work, community development…
Actually, what we have created with current project management methodology is what the Japanese call muda or unnecessary cost: time and effort spent on things other than project execution… On waiting, chasing, legal negotiations, doing the same job twice. In fact, we’re spending too much effort on our projects: Much more could be accomplished -if only we were able to avoid these costs-.
Lean and agile
The good news is: Lean & agile project management (LPM) teaches how to eliminate these costs and how to invest our budgets in project execution only. LPM is a project management philosophy first developed for product development within Toyota Motor Corporation, then applied in the construction industry and further developed by the software development community. Essentially, the method proposes to work in a focussed way, with one team on one or only a few projects at the time and to dramatically reduce lead times, from years to months or weeks. LPM teaches teams to focus on the value work to be done and to eliminate all unnecessary hand-overs and adjustments. This method invites project teams to always embrace changing requirements from the beneficiaries or users. It teaches teams to be disciplined, with a minimum of project management and to improve their work day after day. For that LPM offers a full range of hands-on tools, easy to use anywhere.
In short, LPM guarantees successful completion of projects (on time and within budget) and to get better at it every day.
The beauty is, LPM can be introduced easily to work in conjunction with other planning tools and methods, such as Goal Oriented Project Planning, Metaplan or Logframe and Prince 2.
Deploying LPM allows you to get much more done, resulting in better quality with the same resources. And to do it faster too.