Lean IT

Lean IT could be one the toughest challenges faced by IT organizations. Several companies are looking at Lean IT as a method to further streamline the IT organization or as a last ditch effort to further reduce ongoing operational costs. The organizations that are successful with Lean IT however, are focused on addressing productivity, quality and cycle time across multiple dimensions. A couple of best practice approaches to consider are:


Process Optimization

 A common approach is to seek the optimization of processes such that quality improves and cycle time is reduced. The simple steps of mapping the current state IT processes, breaking each process down into three levels of delivery will identify opportunities for improvement. Key items to look for include: repeatable actions or processes, actions that results in defects, and actions that result in mis-information.

For example, take a look at your current processes for Level 0 to Level 3 IT support. What are the handoff’s and processes that occur once the call is taken initially or the issue becomes known? Mapping each process, each handoff, who is involved, the amount of time, the amount of effort, the number of manual and automated tracking systems will identify the opportunities. The team should be looking for waste (e.g.: steps that can be removed from the process, areas to apply standardization for repeatability of process, removal of bottlenecks to achieve more productivity in the same time period). The objective is to make the changes without compromising the quality of the product or service delivered.

Conducting a Lean IT Walkthrough

 There are four areas of focus when conducting a Lean IT walkthrough, namely; operating practices, management systems, organization and capabilities, and mindset and behavior. Conducting a Lean IT walkthrough of these four areas will provide some unique opportunities and items to consider. 

  1. Operating Practices – A quick item to check for is whether or not the operating practices are documented. Are the practices common, well known and simple? If you were to ask five people, would you get the same answer? Variation in operating practices creates unnecessary waste. Setting aside tasks to complete later, creates waste. To the extent processes can be standardized and simplified, we reduce waste, cycle time and the time required to deliver to our customers, and make more efficient use of resources.
  2. Management Systems – Most management systems are fraught with gaps and inconsistencies, which leads to waste. Very often the systems do not include key constituents and management capabilities that are critical to success. One example is the procure to pay system and the number of reviews and handoff’s required to pay a vendor. How smooth and simple is the current process? Is it clear and simple or does it require multiple follow-ups and discussions with management and/or the supplier, resulting in lack of timely payment or mis-information? Or, are there redundant approvals, which also results in unnecessary wait time, which extends overall cycle time?
  3. Organization and Capabilities – Our experience with rolling out IT capabilities and multiple organization structures is that organizations that exist today will undergo change in the next 18 months to two years. The ability of the organization to move forward in response to business requirements is crucial and has significant ramifications beyond the immediate costs of additional headcount or additional IT capability. The business customer expects IT to be nimble, flexible, and having the foresight to address gaps before they impact the business. A good example is delivering web based or mobile capability. Was the IT organization ready for this shift to mobile and able to address the business needs immediately, or did it take months to hire or acquire the capabilities? The challenge is to continuously evaluate the organization and its capabilities. If you don’t, you will build in waste from resources who lack the skills and functionality needed by the business.
  4. Mindset and Behavior – In order to be successful with Lean IT, you must understand staff attitudes toward change and be able to motivate staff, or augment them with staff that understands and embraces the changes required. Often finding that key individual(s) in the organization who can be the ‘evangelist’ makes the difference in how quickly behaviors and mindset within an IT group will change.

These are only two of the best practices to consider, and are part of a larger set of practices and opportunities that could be addressed. A more serious consideration is obtaining the expertise and operational experience that is needed to lead the assessment and deliver results. Many organizations have hired expertise to conduct the assessment and prepare the hypothesis or ‘range of opportunity’ only to see them fail. Keep in mind that the experience of your leaders in delivering results and being responsible for the operation post deployment of the solution, will often make the critical difference in the sustainability of your desired results.