IPMA International Project Management Association
17 March 2021 / 9:00

Just-In-Time in Project Management

Imagine doing only what is necessary, when it is necessary, and in the necessary amount. How much would that influence your productivity? I can tell you. It would increase your productivity a lot 😊

This philosophy of doing the right thing at the right time is known as Just-In-Time. Maybe you heard someone say: Oh, that was just in time – meaning if something happened a second later, it would be too late. In logistics, we often use the term Just-In-Time delivery – meaning delivering the right material to the right place at the right time of its consumption. And I can tell you it also increases productivity a lot.

Yeah, I know. You don’t work in production, so how can JIT increase your productivity? Just-In-Time does not mean only delivering the right thing to the right place at the right time. It is also about focusing the right level of energy on the right activities at the right time. And that is something that you can relate to, right?

In general terms, productivity describes a measure of production efficiency – how efficient you are in delivering your activity, project, or job. We can measure productivity as an output per unit of input, typically over a specific time. You know the more efficient you are in creating an output, the more productive you are overall.

So, how to be more efficient? The main principle of JIT is to focus on eliminating all waste. By waste, I mean all those tasks which do not contribute any value to the activity you are doing. Then being efficient means eliminating those non-value-adding activities.

Suppose you google the eight wastes of LEAN or wastes in administration processes. In that case, you find several lists, which describe what you should avoid doing. So, there is no need for me to repeat them here. However, I would like to share my top 3 rules that help me be efficient or get better in my efficiency. All my top three rules focus the right energy level on the right activities at the right time.

To be more productive:

  • Don’t start what you cannot finish.
  • Switch to batch production.
  • Focus one thing at a time.


Don’t start what you cannot finish

How many times do you read the same email? Be honest. Have you ever opened your inbox in the morning, read your email, and without doing any action with your email, you started to do something else? I know you did. I did it as well. And it is a waste of time. If you read an email and don’t take any action, I am sure you read it again and again until you take action. So why should you read an email if you don’t have time to answer it, delegate it, move it to the calendar, or trash it. The more time you read the same email more time you waste your time and the less productive you are. I chose the email example because we use them daily. However, you can apply the rule Don’t start what you cannot finish, to any activity you do.
Yeah, I know you might argue: What if the task I have is enormous and impossible to finish even in one day?


Switch to Batch production

Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

I would add: a bite you can digest. Instead of delivering value in a big project that consumes enormous amounts of time, imagine delivering it in smaller chunks at more frequent intervals.

Delivering value more frequent follows a fundamental principle that has revolutionized many industries: small batch sizes. A batch is a quantity produces at one time. In other words, you need to divide your tasks into small parts, which you can “digest” in a defined time.

I often deal with Culture, LEAN, System Thinking, and Coaching in my job. All mentioned topics are challenging to understand and even more difficult to apply within an organization. So how do I handle it? One step at a time. First, I need to understand the topic, so I read a lot about it. Always when I read a make digital note. That is my first “batch”—the first quantity produced at one time. So, no matter how much time I have for reading, I always create some notes. Once I have a digital note, I can start preparing the application concept, usually a first draft presentation.  The first draft is my second “batch.” To finish this batch, I used my first batch, which was the digital note. The first benefit of working in batches is that you can use them as input for your further work, and you can use them on any other projects. For example, I can use the digital note about Coaching to prepare a presentation to explain to my colleagues a new approach. I can also use the same digital note for my blog post on the IPMA website.

The main idea of focusing on a “batch” way of working is that you need to finish with an output that is reusable and ready to be shared once you start doing something. Another example is an agenda for the meeting. Imagine you need to schedule a regular meeting status. You can prepare separately for every meeting, or you can prepare a template for your status meeting. So as a first step, you prepare a template for the agenda, a general one that works for you, and you can reuse it for another project. In the future, you safe time thinking about the structure of the meeting; you take the template and fill it with content. Once you prepare content for the meeting, a good practice is to share it with your teammates for a quick check. As the second benefit of working with small batches is quick quality control.


Focus on one thing at a time

Multitasking is a lie. Sorry, no discussion here. You don’t believe me. So try it. Here is a short exercise, which I borrow from the book The FIT Organization by Daniel Markowitz. Take a piece of paper, a pen, and a stopwatch. For the first round of the exercise, start measuring the time and write: Multitasking is a lie, and then below each letter, write the numbers 1,2,3; if you do it right, you should end with the number 18 below the letter “E”. When you finish writing then note the time it took you to finish the first round. For the second round: start measuring the time and write: Multitasking is a lie, but in the way: “M” and number 1 below, then “U” and the number 2 below it, then “L” and the number 3 below it until you finish with the letter “E” and the number 18. Now, compare the time from both rounds. I can guarantee you were more efficient in the first round while focusing on one activity at one time.

I guess you know the FLOW. One minute of attention in a deep, tranquil state of concentration is potentially 100 times more valuable than the same minute switching between Facebook, Instagram, and your work. In other words, the state of mind you are in at any given moment powerfully shapes the quality of the attention you have at your disposal. So, the quality of the output you are producing. Have you ever heard someone say: I was so focused on doing two things simultaneously? I guess you did not. Have you ever sent an email while simultaneously participating in the meeting and later realized that you need to correct the mistake in that email? Don’t answer. I know you did 😊

Imagine doing only what is necessary, when it is necessary, and in the necessary amount. Imagine doing one thing at a time. Imagine finishing everything you start in a way that is easy to share, build on or reuse for another project. Imagine how it could boost your productivity.



  • Armando A. says:

    Thank you for this article. It gives an understanding to reason. How much reason is needed to convince yourself that focusing on one thing at a time is a major benefit to the quality work that you can output. The verbiage of only doing what is necessary, when necessary and only the necessary amount can be a bit confusing. However the article breakdown the reason for that motto and it does give clarity and a deeper understanding to the message that is being delivered.

    Great piece,

  • Maria says:

    Multitasking is definitely a lie, thank you for saying it out loud. I found an article that explains why multitasking doesn’t work, I thought you might be interested in reading it: https://kanbantool.com/blog/why-we-need-to-stop-multi-tasking-right-now

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Author of this post

Marek works as a LEAN focused Coach at Vaillant Group. His primary responsibility is to design systems to drive and to navigate cultural change towards a culture of continuous improvement. Marek develops his coaching practices in the industrial plants of the Vaillant Group in Slovakia and England.

Besides his love for cultural transformation and process improvement, he is very enthusiastic about project management. Marek founded and developed IPMA Young Crew in Slovakia. As the Management Board Member, he co-developed IPMA Slovakia by taking care of Marketing and Communication. In between 2019 and 2021, he was also the Management Board Member of Young Crew Global, responsible for the Global Young Crew Workshop and Coaches and Mentors program.

Marek has several hobbies. One of them is writing. To develop this skill, Marek writes about Coaching, Culture, Behaviors, and Project Manager Practice.