Lean Project Management – it’s about what you notice

Over at Reforming Project Management Hal Macomber is seeking to transfer the learning from Lean Production into the project management world.

In Lean Production there exists the concept of the “visual workplace”, commonly expressed through the 5S model. Hal points out that projects may not always involve material products and resources but always involve people and conversations; it therefore makes sense to translate the 5S model into what he calls the 5R Protocol for a Listening Workplace:

  1. Roles
  2. Rules
  3. Reflection
  4. Relationships
  5. Routines

What’s interesting is the way his own thinking is developing as he reflects on this model and the conditions that need to be in place for real changes to happen – critically the need for having the right mental distinctions to notice what is really important and then taking action based on those distinctions:

What we notice has to do with the distinctions we can make and the routines that we follow. Both our noticing and effectiveness in action increase as we take action. If we want to work in a lean way we need the distinctions of lean and we need to take action. […] Learning to operate in a lean way happens by doing projects in a lean way.

For me this sits well with the model of cognition used by NLP:


Our habitual perceptual filters control what we actually notice in our surroundings – an engineer will notice different things from an HR expert. The mental programs we use (or habitual ways of thinking) will then influence what meaning we ascribe to those things and therefore influence our conscious intent about what to do. Those same mental programs will distort our conscious intent into our everyday strategies, which in turn result in actions and words that fit with our perceptual filters. The whole system is both recursive and self-reinforcing – the success of actions we take in the world tends to strengthen the perceptual filters and mental programs that led to us choosing those actions.

In such a model changing behaviour often needs the conscious adoption of new filters and disctinctions re-inforced by action until new unconscious mental programs take hold. This is where coaching is especially useful to remind the person who is changing what they should be paying attention to.

What Hal is doing with his 5R model is start to express the things that make a difference in order to get “Lean Projects” right – it will be interesting to see how he develops this into practical tools that can not only be applied but through their application embed new ways of thinking.

Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change