project champion

By Mike Loughrin, CEO of Transformance Advisors

Project Oriented Approach

The best approach for a lean transformation is running well-defined projects focused upon the elimination of waste.

Lean is not chaotic cost cutting. Lean is not empowering everyone to tinker with processes and products in some wishful delusion about reaching success through zero cost and zero leadership engagement.

Alternatives exist to running projects and these other approaches can, sometimes, create incremental improvement. They will rarely propel an organization to success. In terms of risk, they will often become a disaster which can take years to overcome. You may have seen or even experienced alternatives such as:

  • Training everyone on a few lean tools and closing the class with a commitment from management to watch the improvements happen
  • Hiring someone with a great resume – usually a chaotic cost cutter claiming to have implemented lean all by themselves
  • Following the advice of some lean charlatan claiming how “The 5S System” is so easy and must be the first thing you do
  • Calculating great financial rewards for a lean program – and seeing even greater savings when you budget zero investment for the work

Fortunately, people reading this article have learned their lessons on what not to do, or you have been wise enough to avoid the craziness of others, or you have simple been lucky. For me, I’ve been lucky. And, through that luck, I have seen tremendous success leveraging projects as a key aspect to making a lean transformation.

But, it’s not just wisdom or luck. Leveraging projects for a lean transformation requires the steady hand of project champions providing leadership and coaching to the project team.

Lean Projects

Project Champions

The project champion is the person who owns the leadership role and delegates the project management role.

Success with the leadership role requires:

  • Company knowledge – who are the key players and how does the culture impact the project
  • Industry knowledge – what are the best practices and emerging trends
  • Lean knowledge – principles, value, waste, tools, and the goal to craft a sustainable organization
  • Coaching skills – an ability to ask great questions, listen to the answers, and not provide all the answers

For lean projects, these champions have 3 key responsibilities:

  1. Ensuring each milestone is complete and correct
  2. Removing roadblocks beyond the power of the project team
  3. Coaching the project team to success

Let’s look closer at these 3 responsibilities.

A Valuable Resource

1. Milestones

Lean Projects

2. Roadblocks

A Valuable Resource

3. Coaching

Lean Projects


Questions are useful in guiding conversations.

Open questions are used to gather information and help the problem-solver think deeply about a new issue or problem.

In organizing questions, lists of questions are useful for reference. To efficiently select questions, it’s helpful to think strategically. Which types of questions fit this situation?

Asking Open Questions

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The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Key Steps to Closing a Project by Mary Lewinson

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