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The 5 Lean Principles Every Business Owner Should Know

Discover the 5 key principles of lean project management and how AI is changing the way businesses manage projects for better outcomes.

Motion Blog
at Motion
Sep 12, 2023
Table of contents

Double-handling? Mountains of paperwork? Bottlenecks and delays?

Inefficiency in your business can manifest in all kinds of frustrating ways. Running a business is hard enough without wasted time, resources, and money.

Lean methodology can be a powerful solution to overcome these challenges.

The Lean methodology is a systematic approach that focuses on removing waste and maximizing value for you and your customers by continuously improving your processes.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • What lean project management is
  • Lean thinking
  • The five principles of lean
  • How artificial intelligence (AI) is changing lean project management

What is lean thinking, a.k.a the lean mindset?

Lean thinking, also known as the lean mindset, is based on the concepts of minimizing waste, continuous improvement, and keeping your customers happy:

Eliminating waste: If you run a commercial kitchen, eliminating waste might look like making sure you’re using every ingredient, that you’re not over or understaffed, and that the path from the kitchen to your customers’ tables is the shortest possible. In an accounting firm, this could look more like going paperless and reducing the amount of paper cups being used at the water cooler.

Continuous improvement: In lean thinking, you and your team should always be striving to identify issues, and find efficient solutions. Based on the Japanese principle of Kaizen, continuous improvement means being the best you can be.

Person alongside principles of lean thinking

Keeping customers happy: Increasing revenue might be front of mind for you, but it starts with building customer loyalty. When your customers are happy, they trust you and your business, which builds loyalty and repeat business.

The 5 principles of lean and how to implement them

There are five key principles that power the lean approach. Let's take a look at how you can use them to improve your business.

A circle diagram with five smaller circles containing the principles

‎Lean principle one: Identify value

Identifying value means understanding what your customers value most in your product or service. What do your customers most need from you? Which specific features and benefits are your customers most willing to pay for? What are your user stories telling you? Customer feedback is key at this stage.

In lean thinking, value is defined from the customer's point of view. By identifying value, you can focus on delivering what truly matters to customers. You can also cut out activities that don't help customer satisfaction.

Try surveying your customers to see what they most want from you. Chat to your customer service team to see what feedback they are receiving most often. Review this data with a fine-tooth comb. Make a prioritized list of the most in-demand features and benefits to the least.

Lean principle two: Map the value stream

Mapping the value stream means visualizing your entire workflow. From project initiation to final delivery, make sure you include all the tasks and resources involved in delivering your project.

Tools like PERT charts and the Critical Path Method (CPM) will help you map task dependencies, and give your clients timelines they can trust.

Value stream mapping helps you identify roadblocks, delays, and opportunities for improvement. This can help you improve flow, and optimize your project delivery timelines.

Here’s how lean teams map process flow:

  1. Decide which business processes you want to optimize
  2. Identify each step in the process
  3. Draw out the flow of your entire value stream
  4. Mark decision points
  5. Highlight bottlenecks that need improvement
  6. Simplify your flow chart so your whole team can understand and benefit from it
  7. Test your flow chart to check for accuracy

By keeping it simple and concise, process flow charts will become a go-to in your lean toolkit.

Lean principle three: Create flow

Creating flow means designing processes that lead to logical, frictionless workflows. It involves minimizing disruptions and delays between the steps in your projects. Work then moves through your pipeline seamlessly.

A cog with ribbons and an arrow flowing out to the right

‎‎To build flow into your processes, remove obstacles in the production process. Reduce batch sizes (or chunks of work to be completed) and balance workloads. If you match your project tasks to user stories, you know you are only working on value-adding tasks.

Lean principle four: Establish pull

A pull system means only working on tasks that you have capacity for. Kanban works on a "pull" approach. Tasks are "pulled" into a phase (or column) when the team has the bandwidth to work on them.

In a retail store, using a pull system means replenishing the shelves with products only when customer purchases deplete the existing stock. The store maintains a lean inventory and restocks based on real-time demand. This reduces storage costs, cuts waste, and improves overall business results.

Lean principle 5: Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement, also known as Kaizen, is the ongoing effort to incrementally improve processes, products, and services. It involves looking for opportunities for improvement, implementing changes, and fostering a culture of learning and innovation in your business.

Continuous improvement recognizes that there is always room for improvement. Small, continuous changes add to significant advancements over time. Individuals at all levels should contribute ideas. Give your team the chance to experiment with new approaches and challenge the status quo to drive continuous growth and efficiency.

In an office environment, continuous improvement could involve regularly reviewing administrative processes. Identify areas of waste or inefficiency. Then, implement small changes to streamline workflows. This could include reducing paperwork, digitizing processes, or optimizing communication channels to enhance productivity and effectiveness. The key to continuous improvement is making sure that you are building a culture in your business where your people are encouraged to raise issues and make suggestions.

How is lean thinking applied in project management?

Lean thinking in project management is about providing value to stakeholders and customers while reducing waste in the context of a project.

Focus on project stakeholder and customer value

For example, by focusing on what customers value, a website agency can end up with more efficient project deliveries and happier clients. When you understand your customers' needs, you can align your project goals (and workflows) with their expectations.

This might look like conducting an audit of a client's existing website, where you might find that the customer's timeline is better suited for optimizing the website rather than creating a brand-new site. You might not make as much money on the project because it's not a new build. But, by meeting the client's expectations and timelines, you can win ongoing optimization work for your business instead.

Value stream mapping helps you analyze the website development process. Identifying and removing unnecessary steps can streamline your workflow and save time (and resources).

Always look for ways to improve project delivery

By implementing continuous improvement, you can learn from successes and failures and always look for better ways. This fosters innovation and helps you provide higher-quality services.

Some of the ways you can do this include:

  • Reducing or cutting non-essential tasks
  • Optimizing your resources, and
  • Minimizing rework.

Doing these can increases productivity by maximizing your time and effort.

Work smarter

The pull system also means starting and working on projects based on customer demand rather than just pushing work based on arbitrary schedules. Responding to your client's needs will allow you to efficiently allocate resources as needed. Though you might feel at the behest of your clients, you'll start to identify ways to work smarter (which is a win for both you and your clients).

Visual management, like Kanban boards, can help you track the progress of project tasks (and identify project bottlenecks). This will allow you to manage tasks more effectively and stay on top of deadlines.

By implementing lean thinking in your project management, you can achieve better results, improve resource utilization, and provide higher value to your clients.

How artificial intelligence (AI) is changing lean project management

You don’t have to do it alone when implementing lean thinking in your business. Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the way projects will be managed in the future.

A worker high fiving a robot on a pink background

‎Here are just some of the ways that AI is improving project outcomes for businesses:

Better decision-making

AI enables more efficient and accurate management of projects. Identify patterns, spot trends, and get reliable insights for better decision-making. This is because your reporting doesn't rely on team members to track and update their task statuses manually. In a busy project or business, missed status updates and short deadlines can lead to incomplete (and incorrect) reporting and project delays.

Process automation

AI-powered automation tools streamline repetitive tasks. They reduce manual effort and allow your project teams to focus on higher-value activities. No more scheduling recurring tasks! Let AI tools like Motion’s Intelligent Calendar auto-schedule your team’s workload.

Real-time monitoring and reporting

Your AI enables real-time monitoring of project progress, milestones, and prioritization. Finally, reporting you can rely on!

Motion: Your lean, mean, project management machine

There’s no need to wait for AI-driven project management. The future is already here.

Make better decisions with complete oversight

Motion gives you complete project oversight with multiple project views. You can visually track your improvement measures as you implement lean thinking in your business. You’ll also be able to track projects and see where improvements can be made to your project management processes.


‎Process automation

Motion automates and streamlines repetitive tasks, reducing manual effort and allowing your team to remain focused. Using Motion your can:

  • Determine where waste is occurring by manually setting up and managing recurring tasks
  • Cut waste by implementing automation
  • Review automation over time to make further improvements
  • Determine whether these tasks need to be recurring. Are these tasks contributing to growth, or are they inefficiencies?

By having Motion automate these processes and being able to track them visually, you can better understand where improvements can be made.


‎Eliminate (time) waste with auto-scheduling smart calendars that prioritize tasks for your team. When you don't need to assign all tasks manually, you can save time for other, more strategic tasks. Auto-scheduling also saves your team time. Their schedule is set, factoring in deep work and time blocking for optimal productivity.


‎What if someone calls in sick? Let Motion know and it'll auto-adjust the tasks, assigning them to the available team members.

Centralize all communication and information with Motion’s collaboration tools and easy integrations

Communicate in one place and integrate Google Drive for document centralization. Teams can waste alot of time looking for the information they need to complete their work.


‎Streamline your project processes with Motion by adding all task information to project tasks, so your team has everything they need at their fingertips.

What’s next for your lean project management?

If you're tired of dealing with double-handling, mountains of paperwork, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies in your business, it's time to make a change.

Lean methodology and Motion's automation capabilities (and centralized processes) offer a powerful way to overcome these challenges.

Motion can help automate and simplify tasks, reduce errors, and improve efficiency. You'll end up saving time, money and (ultimately) delivering better outcomes.

So why wait? Take the next step and try Motion free today.

Motion Blog
Written by Motion Blog