Lean Project Management For Remote Team Productivity
Skip to content

Lean Project Management For Remote Teams: A Simple Guide To Eliminate Waste & Improve Productivity

James Elliott James Elliott Last Updated:
Lean project management

A survey from the Harvard Business Review found that almost one-third of managers don’t trust their remote teams.

Consequently, managers are scheduling more meetings and demanding greater levels of reporting. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a huge reduction in productivity.

Lean Project Management can fix this. Based on Toyota’s manufacturing philosophy from the 1950s, this management method helps reduce waste whilst improving team efficiency.

In this article, we’re going to explore:

  • What is Lean Project Management?
  • The Lean Methodology
  • The 3 Types of Waste & How to Fix Them

Ready to dive in?

What is Lean Project Management?

Let’s start with a definition:

Lean Project Management is the application of Lean manufacturing principles to the practice of project management. The goal is to maximize value while minimizing waste.

As a concept, Lean originates from the Toyota production floor. The original goal of Lean thinking was to streamline production processes in order to maximize outputs and reduce wasted effort.

Given the success of Lean principles within manufacturing, they have subsequently been applied across many business disciplines.

Within project management, Lean principles help project managers improve controls such as resource management, dependency mapping, and value tracking.

Benefits of Lean Project Management

There are many benefits to using Lean principles. These include:

  • Reduced dependencies
  • Lower project costs (reduced waste)
  • Improved team collaboration
  • Greater quality assurance
  • Higher customer satisfaction

The Project Management Institute (PMI) did a great job of summing up what it means to deliver in line with a Lean mindset.

To be Lean is to provide what is needed, when it is needed, with the minimum amount of materials, equipment, labor, and space.

The Lean Project Management Methodology

So far, we’ve looked at what Lean Project Management is, its principles, and its benefits. Next, let’s look at how we apply it to delivering projects in 4 easy steps.

1. Identify Customer Value

The guiding start point for Lean is to consider your project from the perspective of the customer and what they need.

This applies most when fixing project scope. The scope should be aligned to delivering what the customer needs when they need it, whilst also meeting quality and price expectations.

Quality and price are driving factors here as they help in both delivery value and reducing waste.

2. Create A Value Stream

From here, you need to identify how your project will move from its initial idea to its final delivery.

The goal is to identify the steps in between and understand which of those steps add actual value to your end deliverable and which don’t.

These will be identified as ‘value-adding’ and ‘non-value adding’ steps.

For example, designer activities to create prototypes will likely be value-adding. On the other hand, daily update meetings might constitute non-value adding.

Remember to view these activities from a customer’s perspective. Always focus on the value these activities deliver to the customer.

3. Reduce Waste

With the activities identified, a Lean Project Management team will look to reduce or even eliminate the non-value adding activities.

The ideal end-state is for the project team to only ever be working on value-adding activities. If achieved, the project team will be its most productive and should allow the business to reap benefits such as faster delivery and lower costs.

This will help align with step one of the methodology — giving customers the value they need as quickly and effectively as possible.

It’s rare to completely eliminate all non-value adding activities from a project. However, even small improvements are a big step towards becoming Lean.

4. Strive for Continuous Improvement

Reducing non-value-adding activities is not a one-time job. Also, it’s not just the project manager’s responsibility.

Successful Lean project teams should continuously review their activities and reduce waste whenever possible.

Managers should empower teams to challenge every activity. As a result, even the most micro-activities can be optimized for Lean management.

3 Types of Wastes & their Fixes

As we’ve seen, eliminating waste is at the core of Lean Project Management. Waste activities are named after the Japanese concepts of Muda, Muri & Mura.

We’ll look at each type of waste, how they occur, and how to fix them.

Muda: Uselessness

We start with the overriding type of waste — Muda. Muda refers directly to useless activities that bring no value to the overall objective.

Within project management, we see this where resources are utilized without a meaningful output.

For example, some team meetings are incredibly helpful. Having the opportunity to brainstorm, ask for help, and stay connected is invaluable to keep the project moving.

However, we’ve all been in meetings that are a complete waste. And, it’s not just us. As many as 76% of employees feel annoyed with meetings that aren’t necessary.

Worst of all, these sorts of meetings provide no customer value. And, value is central to Lean Project Management principles.

How to fix it?

  • Clearly define tasks and create a clear end-to-end project plan. Ensure everyone on the project team knows what needs to be done, by when. Clarity brings accountability. As a result, you’ll need fewer status update meetings.
  • When meetings are necessary, make them productive. First, circulate an agenda upfront. Second, invite necessary attendees only. And third, share the documented outcomes of the meeting.
  • Utilize Visual Project Management Tools to manage your projects. Through a mix of the Timeline and Board features, give project teams clear cues of key project phases and milestones whilst tracking tasks transparently.

Muri: Overburden

Next, we come to Muri. Muri is the waste caused by overburden. As you reduce Mura, keep an eye out for areas of over-utilization of resources and team members.

Overburden leads to a reduction in value. Here are two reasons why:

  • Rushed tasks may lead to defects and low-quality output. As a result, teams have to rework on project activities. Often, rework is the biggest reason for project delays.
  • Overburdened resources create pileups in the value stream. As a result, the entire project plan is disturbed. Causing a delay in the project schedule.

When working from home, Muri wastes are amplified.

That’s because managers often misunderstand ‘flexible-hours’ as ‘always-available’. As a result, make employees feel burnt out. A recent study by Gallup confirms this.

How to fix it?

  • Establish clear boundaries and between work and time off ensuring that your team doesn’t feel the need to always be available.
  • Understand team members’ key skills and qualifications. That way, you can best utilize them without work pileups.
  • Train managers to spot burnt-out employees. This helps improve wellbeing and productivity.
  • Use workload management software to plan team capacity. Visual tools help managers quickly overview and identify burnout.
  • Encourage team members to take digital breaks and invest in offline hobbies.

Mura: Unevenness

Finally, we come to Mura. Mura focuses on reducing unevenness within a team, keeping progress balanced, and coordinated over time.

Whereas with Muri we looked at how teams can get overworked, Mura focuses on smoothing out the workload to reduce the peaks and troughs.

Mura can often have a greater impact on project timelines than Muri. Dramatic workload changes often aren’t accounted for with team members put into a spin as the world changes around them.

Within project management, Mura is often caused by the following:

  • Poor risk management: Failure to identify risks to the project early on can leave teams with little time to react. Identify risks early to avoid changes in the project rhythm.
  • Dependencies: Delayed tasks with dependencies leave little wiggle room. Identify dependencies as early as possible and take action to mitigate them.
  • Changing priorities: As business priorities change so will the pace of your delivery. Keep track of business and environmental changes to make adjustments when necessary.
  • Poor resource allocation: Picking up the wrong resources for critical project tasks can cause your project to slip.
  • Lack of clarity: When team members lack clarity projects slip. That’s because a lot of effort is wasted in back-and-forth communication and rework.

How to fix it?

  • Identify risks in the work schedule and have a plan to mitigate these risks.
  • Create an upfront resource allocation plan.
  • Add buffers to your project schedule and resource plan. That way, you’ll have some room to deal with run-time changes.
  • Provide transparent access to information across the team. This improves clarity and productivity.

How Toggl Plan Helps Implement Lean Project Management?

Remote teams often don’t work well within a micro-managed work culture. Toggl Plan favors flexible planning, macro-management, and getting results over constant status check-ins.

Flexible Planning

Project Timeline

Toggl Plan comes with a simple, drag-and-drop project timeline.

Tasks can be scheduled, assigned, and updated with just a few clicks. Plus, you can also add color-coded milestones to the plan. And, if things change, you can just as quickly re-adjust the schedule.

Team members get clear visual cues about what needs to be done. And, stakeholders can zoom-in on a week, month, quarter, or year to get a quick overview.

And, if your team prefers Agile methods such as Kanban or Scrum, Toggl Plan also has Boards. Boards are great for visually planning and tracking short-term projects and project iterations.

Customizable Task Workflows

Keeping all project-related information in one place makes it easy for everyone on the team to find it. Toggl Plan keeps all task-related information on the task itself. This includes:

  • Customizable task status: That way you and your team don’t have to change the way you work.
  • Task estimates: So you can plan a workday granularly while avoiding employee burnout.
  • Task checklists: That way your team knows exactly what needs to be done and task completion quality.
  • Multiple assignees: So multiple team members can work together on a task.
  • Comments & file attachments: That way collaborating team members can work better together.

Visual Workload Management

Team Timeline

Toggl Plan’s team timeline makes it easy to visually see who’s working on what. Also, you can quickly see which team member is overworked and who’s underutilized.

Best of all you can create team timelines for share team members as well. That way, managers can better plan for allocating shared team resources.

Finally, you can also manage tasks from the team timeline. And, any changes are automatically reflected in the project timeline. The same is true for the other way round too.


When it comes to remote teamwork, Lean Project Management can act as a framework for improving productivity. It helps reduce useless activities, overburdening team members, and eliminating unevenness of work.

Toggl Plan’s flexible planning, customizable workflows, and visual workload management can help your team implement Lean Project Management. Thus, reduce wasted efforts and deliver projects productively.

Sign up for a free Toggl Plan account or learn more.

Join 30,000+ subscribers getting the best tips on productivity, work management, hiring and more!

We promise we won't spam you and you can unsubscribe anytime.