What, if any, are the main differences between Lean and Agile Project Management or Scrum on one hand and conventional project management methodology on the other? People often ask this, when they notice that many elements of Lean and Agile are totally common sense and easy to understand and implement. Is Lean & Agile what we do when we actually take project management seriously?
Let’s start with stressing that yes, there are some significant differences between Lean and Agile and conventional project management.
- Customer First – Lean and Agile Project Management puts the customer first, rather than the project team, the team leader or other stakeholders or functional and political interests. It’s the customer who defines value and it’s the customer who’s always entitled to set priorities and to allocate budget, according to his most important needs or concerns. And nobody else. This is different from conventional project management which recognizes and tries to manage a vast array of different stakeholders -who sometimes seem to gain equal priority or importance as the customer-.
- Only value, no waste – Lean and Agile Project Management strive to eliminate all waste from the production process. We strive at not spending any time on stuff that doesn’t add value for the customer. This includes the development and management of bids and contracts prior to the start of the project, piles of documents with requirements and functional design before anything has been built, fights on quality issues after delivery, detailed planning of work that may never be scheduled, specialist content driven discussions during Iteration Meetins and Daily Standups, handovers from one specialist to another, interruptions of work flow, rework after misunderstandings in email communication, etc. In Lean and Agile Project Management, we want to spend our time on the production work only.
- Single piece flow and a balanced workload – Lean and Agile Project Management is, more than conventional project management, an iterative process with short time intervals and focussed on getting things done. The goal of Lean and Agile Project Management is to finish products (described as User Stories) every week. This practice allows to keep a limited amount of work in progress. We only need to think of the jobs which are on for this current Iteration. The jobs of the previous iteration have been completed, no need to get back to those again. This contrasts heavily with conventional project management, which makes use of milestones and project phases, normally spread over much longer periods of time. Which leads to much more work in progress, often even more than one project in progress at a time. Which leads to piles of work, stress and errors towards the milestone or deadline of the project.
When embracing these practices, it comes down to do them in a disciplined manner. And yes, that’s quite similar to many other working methodologies. As are the practices of making a product breakdown structure (which in Lean and Agile Project Management are called Themes, User Stories and Tasks), of phasing a project and adding milestones (which in Lean and Agile Project Management are called Releases and Iterations), of working with Teams and Budgets, of using Standardized Work Instructions or protocols to do things -and to improve these constantly-.
So, indeed, Lean and Agile Project Management are not totally different from all that you may already be doing. Which makes it possible and not too hard to engage in a transition process. But it certainly adds some core elements to your best practices.