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Use Lean to Ease the Pain of Enterprise Software Implementations

September 27th, 2012 2 comments

Use Lean before enterprise software implementationsLarge scale enterprise software implementations … ERP, CRM, BI, BPM, Ware house management, transportation management, talent management, learning management ….. What do they all typically have in common?

I routinely speak with managers who have been tasked with implementing or supporting the implementation of large-scale enterprise software solutions. All raise a similar set of frustrations:

  • There are a LOT of options, all very different. I just don’t know which is right for us …

  • It’s taking much longer than we thought to do this and negatively impacting our business …

  • Integration and customization costs are out of control and way over budget …

  • We have the system installed and up, but can’t get people to use it …

  • We’re different. We just don’t do things in a standard way and no system seems to be able to handle our requirements. Guess we’ll have to build internally …

Coincidence that I keep hearing the same comments? I think not. From my experience, this is absolutely the rule, not the exception. Now, the question is why does this consistently happen?

I think it’s simply a matter of putting the cart before the horse. So often, technology is looked at as a silver bullet to solve business problems when, in reality, the problem is one of process and not product (i.e. technology solution). Let’s put this into perspective … technology solutions should sit on top of good business processes and ideally enable those processes to function better, faster, and cheaper. But,what happens when you try to overlay an ill-defined or just plain bad business process with a technology solution? You guessed it … experiences like those outlined above.

I think some very focused process characterization and Lean work on the front-end of system decisions and implementations could alleviate a lot of the frustration, if people would just take the time to do it. Some things to think about ….

  • Start with top level enterprise metrics and a high level value-stream. Identify the key value adding processes, their associated owners, and the metrics those owners manage to. This will help identify critical stakeholders and to crystallize the reporting that is really required

  • Start breaking down those top-level processes and characterizing across all operations. Are all operations doing things the same way, measuring the same things, etc? Most likely, they are not. Where differences exist, work collaboratively to identify best practices and consolidate to a best-of-breed process.

  • Look for unnecessary complexity, waste and defect-producing aspects of processes. Run focused improvement teams to correct. Remove the fat and make processes as LEAN as possible BEFORE trying to systemize. Waste and complexity in processes equals increased cost for system integration and customization, GUARANTEED.

  • Payoff. From steps 1-3 above, a well-defined and actionable set of requirements will be derived AND prioritized. This helps with product selection AND with system integration, customization and testing. Get it right the first time … what a concept, right?

Of course these actions will take some time on the front-end, but my contention is that the time and expense of doing this process work in front of a system implementation will almost always pay for itself many times over. Sometimes we seem to for get that it’s the business processes that serve customers and produce revenue, not the technology you’re trying to implement to supposedly improve those processes.

A little preparation and risk prevention now, or a lot of pain and suffering down the road? You make the call ….

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss. I’d love to hear your insights and ideas.

Lean In IT ? – Surely you Jest ….

September 25th, 2012 4 comments

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.

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September 2nd, 2010 Comments off

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