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Lean In IT ? – Surely you Jest ….

September 25th, 2012

Lean in ITRepeat after me … Lean is not just for manufacturing … Lean is not just for manufacturing …..  Fire up your browser and just ask Google.  It will enlighten you with many, many examples of  Lean making a big impact on service organizations … reducing costs, making things faster, making things just better.  You’ll find it in healthcare, government services, financial services, logistics,  and one that is near and dear to everyone’s heart ….. IT.  Yes, I said the I-word …

Remember, Lean is first and foremost about the elimination of waste, and I would argue that there is plenty of waste in IT, hence there is applicability for Lean in IT.   To take things further, since IT is supporting the broader business needs, waste in IT can be magnified into bigger waste (and bigger problems) as it filters through the business.  A good way to look at how Lean applies is to look at the elements of waste and make the connection to IT ….

Waste of Defects.  Systems not meeting requirements, software bugs, missed deadlines, blown budgets, etc.  This clearly adds cost to IT, but I would argue that the impact to the business can be even larger in terms of $’s.  Incorrect handling of a single customer transaction can cost the business big in terms of cost, lost revenue, and potentially attrition.

Waste of Overproduction.  Here, overproduction means simply doing things that don’t need to be done, like working on low-impact squeaky wheel projects that really don’t provide value to the business.  This is the classic IT Alignment with the Business problem that has been talked about for years and years.  The cost to the broader business is that strategic projects offer real value don’t get worked.

Waste of Waiting.  Test teams waiting for the next load that’s running behind, development teams waiting for test results, waiting for new hardware, waiting for software upgrades and patches, etc.    But, again, the business impact can be bigger.  Think about slow application response times, inefficient problem escalation process, missed deadlines delaying product launches, etc.

Waste of Overprocessing (non-value add processing)A good example here is IT keeping track of excessive amounts of technology metrics, and then reporting those metrics to business managers.  Again, the old business / IT alignment demon rears its head.

Waste of Transportation. On site visits to correct hardware/software issues, physical security, compliance, or software audits, vendor visits for equipment that might not really be needed, etc.

Waste of Excess Motion. Firefighting creates excess motion, and I think it’s safe to say that firefighting is a way of life for many IT organizations and a productivity killer.

Waste of Excess InventoryServer sprawl, under-utilized hardware, software installed that no one uses, development and test teams benched, waiting for their next assignment

Waste of Underutilized TalentFailure to encourage and capture new ideas for innovation, retention issues, high-value employees used for mundane tasks that really require a much lower skill level, or possibly even automation (i.e. regression testing).   And I’ll add one more here … build vs. buy.  What is the impact when IT leverages its resources to build something inhouse, when a better and cheaper solution could have been bought?  This negatively impacts IT and the business heavily.

Download Lean Services

a short Powerpoint that discusses Lean in a services environment

OK, do can we agree that some (or all) of the above wastes happen in the typical IT department?  I thought so.  And, if Lean thinking and tools can help you reduce these and other wastes???   They can.

So, I think it’s pretty clear that there are many opportunities to use Lean to help IT organizations better serve their customers (i.e. the business), and lower IT costs and resource requirements.  I also believe that, due to most businesses’ increasing dependence on IT, the bigger value to improvements will likely be realized by the business, through smoother operations, better resource utilization, and happier customers and employees.   There are some really interesting trends like SOA and BigData that I’ll talk about in future articles that make Lean even more applicable.

Think about it and Contact me if you’d like to discuss how lean can be applied to IT organizations in more detail.

  1. david Yoest
    September 25th, 2012 at 10:29 | #1

    We are applying lean in IT and even had some successful projects. It takes a little imagination and alot of negotiation, but it can be done.

  2. September 25th, 2012 at 14:47 | #2

    Yes, it does, but there are lots of places where it makes sense. I think the acceptance and rollout of SOA has a chance to be a real game changer, bridging the gap between the business (process) and IT (software). Theoretically, it should allow much more efficient and robust process and services design. I plan to write on this in upcoming articles.

  3. Savitha
    February 15th, 2013 at 00:55 | #3

    Lean is completely relevant and more so in the IT world where you have a lot of waste’s and rigidity which creep into the processes, some which we are aware of and some which unintentionally creep in. Simple diagnostic tools to understand the process, metrics and where does time go – will give many small but powerful means of curbing waste.

  4. February 20th, 2013 at 22:04 | #4

    Very true. There is so much value and investment that there is a tremendous opportunity for eliminating waste. Thank you for your comment.

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