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Planning with Lean

As a person who believes in the broad applicability and holistic philosophies of Lean, I recently decided to put theory to the test. I applied the practice of creating a minimum viable product in the form of a pilot 3-hour workshop.

This article is the first of two, where the project and primary lean principles are introduced, and then the principles are applied to initiate the planning and development of the workshop. The second article covers the execution, lessons learned, and actions that have been, or will be applied for future training sessions of the workshop.

It is my hope that walking through the Lean principles in this applied fashion, along with lessons learned, that others will gain a better appreciation of Lean and just how applicable it may be.

The proposed workshop was based upon an assessment process called the P5TM Impact Analysis, and the GPM® P5TM Standard for Sustainability in Project Management. P5 stands for People, Planet, Profit, Processes and Products, and offers a bridge between projects and sustainability.

Each of the five categories includes several aspects upon which one can score the performance of their projects, or components thereof, enabling project teams to understand their project’s impact and make positive contributions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For example, under Planet, there are water, energy, emissions and waste aspects among others.

The purpose behind the P5 Standard and the Impact Analysis tool is to introduce a means of identifying and addressing environment and social issues that are associated with business projects, programs, and portfolios. In this way, it is expected that a raised awareness will also result in better decisions, and overall better performance by projects and their products delivered, in a more holistic way – not just financially, and not just for the producer.

Lean Principles

The goal of lean overall is to eliminate wastes, or rather non-value added components of all types, within a process. For existing processes, the practice can be applied to lower costs by improving efficiencies, reducing cycle and wait times, reducing physical wastes, and more.

The Lean Enterprise Institute, a well-known, go-to resource for lean information and training, lists a five-step thought process for guiding the implementation of lean:

  1. Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer for a specific product family

  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value.

  3. Make the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer.

  4. As flow is introduced, let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.

  5. As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced, begin the process again and continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.

For the development of new products or processes, the concept of minimum viable product is now commonly applied in business: developing a product with sufficient features to deliver value and satisfy early adopters, and to gather validated learning about the product (from customer feedback) for its continued development. This is often referred to as “Build-Measure-Learn” from the popular book, The Lean Startup.

For the proposed workshop, I applied these 5 Lean principles within a Deming Cycle framework of Plan, Do, Check, Act. This provided the basis to plan, build and run the workshop, to review the final outcomes and participant feedback, and then finish the cycle by improving the product itself for the next intended iteration.


As with all projects, it started with determining the objectives, or the value of the project, and the means (or value streams) by which this value might be delivered.

Because the proposed workshop was a subset and adaptation of content from the broader GPM training program, some assumptions about what might be of value to the targeted audience were made. Some of these assumptions were based on previous research around project risks and failure rates, and various means to improve them. This was important to get right, as according to Deming, “the customer is the most important part of the production line.”

Following that, a questionnaire was issued to the registrants to find out more about them, to find out the breadth of their experiences, the industries and project types they typically work on, and whether they had any preferential working styles.


The purpose of the workshop was to raise awareness about the potential environmental and social aspects to consider when working on an industrial project. This would include understanding how a project might impact the environment and the people associated with the project or within its proximity or reach, as well as how the environment and social aspects might impact said project, its objectives and processes, its schedule and/or its costs.

In learning about these aspects and using the P5 impact analysis tool to score projects or project components, participants would be in a better position to identify and eliminate risks associated with their projects. Lowering and/or eliminating risks to projects and processes have been known to reduce costs, improve schedule performance, and help ensure the intended benefits and/or objectives of the project are achieved.

From the number of registrants who enrolled, it was obvious that the promotional materials did in fact hit on challenge areas within the sector, so this helped to validate the research and other assumptions made around the scope to cover in the session. The questionnaire results further facilitated identification of relevant and familiar working exercises to employ, such that the full value would be recognizable to the participants.

Value Stream & Flow

As a minimum viable product, the initial planning was performed with concepts of minimizing non-value add materials, and achieving logical flow in mind, to ensure successful and timely delivery of value to the participants.

The challenge of course became assessing all of the training materials, applicable sustainability concepts, and decision-making strategies that were available. There is a LOT of information around, and although a broad spectrum of students was intending to participate, it was clear that some assembled content would be unnecessary.

A great deal of thought was put into what information was required for context, to develop an appreciative understanding of the concepts in a short time, and how one might utilize that newfound knowledge to compare and contrast various project options.

In the words of Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, I had to come up with the “minimum set of features needed to learn from earlyvangelists – visionary early adopters,” where “visionary customers [could] fill in the gaps on missing features...” This was the tricky part – to ensure enough was conveyed through the streamlined materials such that the participants could still “get it” and be able to apply it on their own future projects.

In line with a mini-PDCA cycle, a few iterations passed during this development timeframe – addition and removal of content, rearrangement of the order of some details, ensuring an appropriate shift from content to exercises and back, and timing things right to allow for questions as well as to finish on time!

With the planning and development steps complete, the workshop was ready for delivery. I hope you’ll tune in to the next blog to find out what happened in the Do, Check, and Act stages!

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