Chapter 6: The Lean Project Life Cycle
The project life cycle is the succession of phases that a project goes through from the emergence of the idea to the realization of the benefits. We look at this topic briefly, as we provide more details in the Lean Portfolio Management, Lean Development Life Cycle, and Managing Creation and Absorption chapters.
A common mistake is to consider Initiating, Planning, Executing / Monitoring and Controlling and Closing as phases of the project cycle. In addition, they’re often referred to as “the five phases of project management”, which makes the confusion even greater. In fact, these are processes (process groups) that form a variant of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, which applies to each phase of the project life cycle.The LeanPM Framework project life cycle comprises the following phases:
- Idea Generation and Triage
- A3 Analysis and Pre-Selection/Selection
- Creation and Absorption
- Project Retrospective and Evaluation
Figure 6.1: The Lean Project Life Cycle
Each employee, customer or partner is empowered to generate a project idea. In addition, the organization purposefully generates project ideas by:
- Making plans to achieve the organization's objectives
- Monitoring the organization's value-creation system to identify problems and opportunities for improvement
- Monitoring the organizational environment, including the market, competition, social changes, innovation development and legal framework
- Using the results of its research and development
- Conducting Kaizen and innovation sessions and other improvement exploration activities
It’s important to stimulate the generation of many project ideas and they should be validated quickly. We achieve this by a triage - a rapid assessment of project ideas suitability. Its purpose is to prevent further spending on inappropriate ideas.
The use of a structured Project Idea Form can support triaging. The form might require the submission of information on the idea, benefit, cost, alignment, and lack of redundancy, as well as the compliance criteria for certain minimum requirements (e.g., for ROI).
The project idea is suitable when it:
- Meets the established criteria for a project. Most ideas will be for small incremental improvements. Potential projects would involve a certain complexity, effort, time and expected impact that would require them to be managed as temporary value streams.
- Is aligned with the organization's objectives.
- Does not duplicate other initiatives. To this end, the organization should be transparent about all initiatives.
- Complies with certain requirements like a minimum ROI (if it’s possible to be calculated at this stage) or at least shows that the potential benefits would outweigh the potential costs.
The originators should know the suitability criteria and be encouraged to submit ideas that meet the expectations.
The suitable project ideas move to the A3 Analysis and Selection/Pre-Selection phase.
A3 Analysis is a process, the outcome of which can be recorded on a one-page document to be used for decision-making. Initially, A3 documents (reports) were prepared on one A3 size sheet of paper, but now it’s more usual to condense the information onto one A4 page.
In this phase, the initiators of the project perform additional analysis to create its preliminary definition. This definition is summarized in a one-page A3 Project Definition document.
The A3 Project Definition may contain the following information, using visual elements as much as possible:
- Description of the problem or the opportunity
- Root-cause analysis (if applicable)
- Comparison of alternatives and recommended project approach
- Project objectives, main deliverables and activities
- Expected costs, benefits and ROI
- Risks, assumptions and preconditions
- High-level project plan
Based on the A3 analysis and definition, we can make the following decisions:
- A project that doesn’t meet the selection criteria is rejected
- A project with limited complexity, uncertainty and costs may be selected
- A project with greater complexity and uncertainty and higher costs may be pre-selected because it’s promising, but needs further analysis
The selection includes allocation prioritization (as discussed in Lean Portfolio Management chapter). We move the selected projects to the portfolio backlog for sequencing and subsequent execution.
The pre-selected projects are further explored in the Exploration phase.
In this phase, we perform additional just enough studies, tests and analyses of the potential project and its alternatives, to decide whether we should select it for execution. It’s about executing an initial smaller project, which may include feasibility studies, initial design, testing assumptions and validating or invalidating hypotheses (validation studies), pilot tests, business case development, etc.
As an outcome of the exploration phase, the project is selected for execution or is rejected because it doesn’t meet the selection criteria.
The selected projects are included in the Portfolio Backlog. They are given a schedule priority and are sequenced to replenish the Project Input Queues. See the Lean Portfolio Management chapter for more information.
Execution begins when project teams pull projects out of the input queues.
We call the project execution (development) phase of the LeanPM Framework "Creation and Absorption", because it involves two concurrent processes:
- Creation: the process of creating project assets and
- Absorption: the process of absorbing project assets into the value stream system.
There is no separate phase for deployment or transition in the LeanPM Framework. Experience has shown that such phases are perilous and cause the failure of many projects.
The value stream continually absorbs the assets created by the project. Absorption is as important a process as creation. See more about this in Managing Creation and Absorption.
Project Retrospective and Project Evaluation are tools for learning and continuous improvement (Build knowledge and continuously improve principle).
Project Retrospective is a reflection on a completed project which answers the questions about what worked well, what didn’t work well, and why and what the teams should test or improve. It’s most often held as a structured session that ends with action items to improve future project work.
The retrospective takes place immediately after the project is completed, and its focus is on the team's work and the Conditions of Satisfaction.
Project Evaluation is an assessment of the level of achievement of project objectives and of the project’s effectiveness and efficiency.
The evaluation is performed sometime after the completion of the project, depending on the time horizon of achieving the objectives. Its focus is on analyzing the success or failure of the project and on recommending improvements to the overall project management process.
- Using Initiating, Planning, Executing/Monitoring and Controlling and Closing as project cycle phases is a common mistake.
- The LeanPM Framework project life cycle is comprised of the six phases of Idea Generation and Triage, A3 Analysis and Pre-Selection/Selection, Exploration, Sequencing, Creation and Absorption, Project Retrospective and Evaluation.
- In the Idea Generation and Triage phase, the organization collects and generates project ideas and checks their suitability. The irrelevant ideas are de-selected fast and early to reduce waste.
- Relevant project ideas are subject to rapid analysis and preliminary definition, which is summarized in an A3 Project Definition document. At this stage, de-selection should also be fast to limit waste. Projects with limited complexity, uncertainty and costs that comply with the selection criteria are selected. Promising projects with greater complexity and uncertainty, and higher costs that need further analysis, are pre-selected.
- The pre-selected projects are further explored through rapid PDCA cycles in the Exploration phase.
- Project selection criteria include profitability and allocation priority.
- The selected projects are included in the Portfolio Backlog and are given schedule priority to replenish the Project Input Queues. Project teams pull projects out of the input queues.
- Practice shows that the use of a separate deployment or transition phase is problematic, and LeanPM Framework doesn’t have such a phase.
- The project execution (development) phase of the LeanPM Framework is called "Creation and Absorption". It involves two concurrent processes of equal importance: Creation, i.e., creating project assets and Absorption, i.e., absorbing project assets into the value stream system.
- As tools for learning and continuous improvement, Project Retrospective and Project Evaluation focus on the team's work and the Conditions of Satisfaction, the project success or failure and on enabling improvements.
- The Lean Project Life Cycle involves continuous improvement at all levels.
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