Project Management

Lean and Six Sigma: Engineer the Ultimate Project Manager

What if you could engineer the perfect project manager? What abilities would they possess, what special strengths, and how would they acquire them? Derrell James of the Quality Digest has a few pointers to share regarding the creation of this unique individual that James calls the ‘Lean PM.’

The Old Curmudgeon

Project managers are getting a bad reputation. When someone calls you an “old fogey” or a “curmudgeon”, the suggestion is that you are outmoded and unwanted in your current role. But as James argues, this perception of PMs is unwarranted: 

PMs have experience in multiple departments and usually have strong financial management, organizational and customer-service skills. Many times they're engineers who wish to gain some customer-facing experience. They come from all walks of life, from all departments, and they're all charged with the task of solving serious problems. They're often swept up in emotional conflicts over funding, resources and turf.


To polish up the PM position, one needs a superior strategy. That is why a better PM relies on the power of five – the five technical Lean and Six Sigma project phases of (1) initiation and defining, (2) planning, (3) execution, (4) managing results, and (5) closure or renewal. Better tools = better PM, with the exception that ‘more’ is not always preferable to ‘simpler.’


The stronger PM can effectively handle the ‘social side’ of their work, such that they possess strength to channel passions towards productive ends and can encapsulate the company’s mission and values in their every decision. In this regard, the same five Lean and Six Sigma categories are just as favorable when geared toward social objectives.


A fast PM knows how to maximize project velocity by reducing issues that “drag” projects in the wrong direction or slow down processes and people. Certain technical strategies from the “execute” and “manage results” categories will inevitably aid this objective, with Six Sigma strategy deftly armed to provide the PM with superior speed.

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