World-Class, Lean Performance in the SMEs - Small and Medium Enterprises - by Carlo Scodanibbio, Industrial & Business Consultant - Lean Management Consultant

Carlo Scodanibbio
Industrial & Business Consultant
Lean Management Consultant

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Lean Project Management - basics

Lean Thinking (more ») and the Value Adding Management philosophy with its operational arm, Systematic Elimination of Waste (more »), have brought shining light also into the project-driven sector.
Concepts of value-adding and waste elimination can easily be introduced, with very beneficial results, in project type of operations.

Projects tackled "traditionally", even managed via healthy principles of traditional Project Management (more »), may be extremely wasteful. A couple of (real) examples:

Example 1. In a large new factory construction project there is a number of (rather ordinary) pumps, V-belt driven by (very) ordinary electric motors, to be installed.
Project planning/scheduling has allowed for the following method (main steps):
- according to schedule, pumps are drawn from storage by a "logistics" supervisor (in charge of logistics activities such as transporting plant items to their destination) and handed over to a "delivery team" - pumps are then transported to position by the team (driver/labourers) and offloaded there, with a well identifiable "card" attached to the body of the pump. Pumps go to their correct destination because each card shows unambiguously the reference of its final location, verifiable through a "plant components location map". Records of delivery/offloading are made.
- in a similar manner, but possibly at totally different times (could be a few days later), electric motors are transported to their final location. It is well possible that a pair "pump - motor" becomes actually a pair in very different moments. Delivery/offloading is recorded.
- at a totally different time (could be days later), always according to a well planned schedule, a construction foreman draws from storage pulleys to be fitted to pumps' shafts, and hands them over to a construction fitter that drives around the plant to fit pulleys to pumps. No mistakes are possible: which pulley goes into which pump is extremely clear from a number of reference drawings and a rather detailed "map" showing the physical location of each pump. Pumps are fitted with pulleys and left there. Fitting of pulleys to pumps is recorded.
- at other different times, an electrical foreman draws from storage pulleys to be fitted to electric motors shafts and hands them over to an electrical fitter, who fits the pulleys to motors in a very similar manner and using very similar documentary material (drawings and maps). Fitting of pulleys to motors is recorded.
- one blooming day, always according to schedule, an installation fitter is given bolts, nuts, and V-belts by another foreman, and drives around the plant (in a mistake-proof style) to: solidly bolt pumps and motors to their common base-plate - fit V-belts - check alignment and tensioning - make written records.
- at a totally different time, always according to schedule, a construction superintendent drives around to double check pump/motor alignment, V-belt tensioning, etc. and give his (written and recorded) approval to proceed.
- another sunny day comes, and an electrical wireman is instructed to wire up electric motors to their MCC. The overall fashion is the same: map, drawings, mistake-proof cards. Records are made.
- whereas in another sunny day, a piping fitter goes around and connects (last bit of connection !) pipe ends to pumps' inlet and outlet. He makes necessary records.
- eventually, according to schedule and after verifying all records made so far, a senior construction superintendent drives around and makes the last check and verification of the pump/motor assembly and piping and electrical connection, etc. in order to give his written green-light: "ready for start-up and commissioning".

Example 2. In a certain Country electric power distribution (380 V) is by means of overhead lines, simply made with wooden poles, isolators and overhead wire. New lines installation is handled by the construction department of the local Electricity Authority.
The new line installation method, well planned, scheduled and budgeted by the planning section, allows for the following method (main steps):
- one blooming day, according to schedule, a land surveyor marks the exact digging position for each pole. Necessary recording is made.
- Another sunny day, the earthmoving department moves out, fully equipped, and goes for digging. Holes are dug in the ground as marked by land surveyor. Records are made.
- In a totally different sunny day, the "wooden poles" department fills up a crane-truck with wooden poles as specified, fits a pole in each hole, and leaves it there without filling up the hole. The pole lies there "skew" for a few days (or more). Records are made.
- In a glorious sunshine day, another earthmoving department team moves out again, assisted by a land surveyor. They fill up the holes with loose ground, and, under verticality check performed by the land surveyor, compact it up to perfection. Records are made.
- In another sunny day, two labourers of the "poles painting" department drive around, and dig out about 10 cm. of soil around each pole. This is the preparation work for subsequent pole painting. Records are made.
- In a beautiful sunny day, the poles painting department (one driver and one painter) moves out, gets to each pole and, while driver rests for a while, specialist painter gives a thick coat of creosote based compound to each pole, from a 10 cm. level below ground level up to 1 m. above it. Records are made.
- Necessary compound drying time is allowed before the two same labourers as before get back to each pole and shovel back the 10 cm. of soil into the hole, giving it also a sort of compaction. Records are made.
- Eventually, according to schedule and respecting specifications, a team (driver, artisan and labourer) of the "isolator department" move out in their fully equipped van and go for "pole drilling". Driver rests - assistant labourer positions a step ladder against the pole and brings drill and template - starts up the portable generator - artisan climbs up the pole - drills, according to specs, the necessary holes to accommodate isolators - artisan comes down and assistant removes ladder and tools. Records are made.
- And in a spectacular, bright day, another specialised team of the "isolator department" gets into gear and fits isolators to the poles, with a similar artisan/assistant/driver style. Records are made.
- Any day thereafter (could be sunny, could be cloudy), a senior construction superintendent moves around (with assistant labourer) and inspects the works carried out so far. Inspection is visual, from the ground, except when a closer verification is necessary, In which case the assistant labourer brings the step ladder, etc. etc. Written "green light to pull overhead line" is given at the end of the inspection.
- And finally, the "overhead wire pulling" department moves out triumphant-style, fully equipped with wire drums, cranes, tensioners, step ladders, foreman, artisans, labourers by the lot, etc. and pull the overhead wire........

In both the above cases it is well possible that the project ends up according to plans. The time frame is respected. The budgeted costs are not exceeded. The quality standards of the finished work are compliant with specs.
So, according to traditional criteria, the project is successful.

But is not lean. To the contrary, there is enormous waste in both projects: planned, scheduled and budgeted for waste.
The two examples are "extreme" (on purpose), but well representative of the traditional non-lean mentality.


Lean Project Management targets at executing projects with no waste (or minimal).
What are the causes of waste in traditional projects?
- the sequential method of engineering, planning and construction
- waste caused by division/fragmentation of labour/work
- waste generated by inefficient methods (errors and re-works - excessive handling - idling- etc.)
- waste inherent in non-value adding activities
- and, most of all, waste of time

Under a lean angle of view, time is the most important project parameter - time is the difference between success and failure. Why?
Because not only time is money, but time is the ultimate resource "per-se", the one that cannot be bartered for any other resource.

The lean mentality always sees a project as a flow-process
and targets at minimising its throughput time...

The lean target is achieved through two main techniques:
- the Last Planner approach
- and the Theory of Constraints (TOC)

They assure that in a multi-project (or complex-project) situation the necessary resources are available to the project and operate in a flow mode (continuous, uninterrupted) and not in a hiccup mode.

This means that in a lean project value-adding activities are executed in a flow style by the planned resources - often multi-skill/multi-function - without any or much waste in between.
Lean planning/scheduling (Last Planning) must ensure such availability of resources in a "regular", flow mode.
It must also ensure that operational methods are selected in such a way as to minimise inherent method waste.
Lean Planning always targets at minimising project's throughput time.

This requires a new style of planning (like to say: a new style of thinking, or Lean Thinking).
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