Agile project management dictates that you break your work up into smaller, shippable portions, but it doesn’t say much about how to manage each of those portions of your project. Scrum tries to fix that with managers and meetings; Lean, on the other hand, adds workflow processes to Agile so you can ensure every part of your project is shipped with the same quality.
With Lean project management, you’ll still break up your project into smaller pieces of work that can be completed individually. You’ll also define a workflow for each task, something that’s reminiscent of the Apollo project and its five-box system. Perhaps you’ll have a planning, design, production, testing, and shipping phase—or any other workflow of phases that you need for your task. Cooking a meal might need a preparation and cooking step, while a writing workflow might need an editing and fact-checking step.
Lean’s stages and their flexibility make it a great system for making sure each part of your project is done well. It doesn’t have Scrum’s strict deadlines or force you to work on one thing at a time as TPM does—in fact, you could have various tasks in various phases of your Lean workflow at the same time. What it does do is let you build a system tailored to your team.
Just like Agile, Lean is more of a concept than a set-in-stone project management system. You can use the Lean ideas and build the system you need for your projects.
If you liked the idea of Agile but wanted a way to make sure each part of your work is consistently finished with the same level of quality and oversight, Lean gives you the extra tools you need to make that happen. It’s still flexible—you can define the stages of your project portions as you want—but there’s enough structure to make your projects a bit more guided.
Every part of your project doesn’t necessarily need the same level of oversight or the same steps for completion, but lean treats everything the same. That can be one major downfall in using it to manage projects with diverse parts that all need completed.
Lean also doesn’t have any process to make sure the final project is completed, making it easy as it is with Lean to let your projects drag on forever. It’s again something communication can clear up, but it is worth keeping in mind.