Category Archives: Lean IT

War of the Frameworks – Is Lean IT losing its relevance?

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I recently received an email from a colleague of mine who, after 15 years in IT, was wondering if Lean (and particularly Lean IT) is just an over-used term losing its value. Today we hear and read about Agile, DevOps, ITSM, IT4IT, Lean Startup and other frameworks all purporting to transform and revolutionize the effectiveness of IT operations. How do we make sense of it all?

In my opinion, these frameworks and the methodologies they apply to the “IT challenge” are not at all at odds with one another. On the contrary, they each bring unique insights and applications to the array of complexity within IT and support our progress towards more effective and efficient flow of information to those who need it. 

The Chassis

The principles of Lean IT, serve as the chassis to the engines of Agile, DevOps, and other IT frameworks. In 2011, I attempted to capture those principles in Lean IT – Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation. The principles included a foundation of purpose, respect for people, and relentless improvement. The next level addressed self-driven behavior where people do the right thing based on intrinsic motivation. From there we explored core ideas of Lean including voice of the customer, quality at the source, and systems thinking. Building on that, we moved into production concepts such as flow, pull and just in time. The outcome is a culture of trust, transparency, accountability and performance impacting quality, delivery time, cost, and organizational morale.

The details of the model can be downloaded here (scroll to the bottom of the page). Reflecting on the essence of what all the models are attempting to achieve, it boils down to this: 

Create Value

Flow Value to the Customer

Create a Great User Experience

Keep Getting Better  

There are many frameworks and tools to help us accomplish this, but the core principles do not change – they are universal, timeless, and self-evident once we apply them. With the advent of other frameworks, is Lean IT irrelevant? Are the core principles of an auto chassis irrelevant to a Tesla? I think not! Regardless of which frameworks your organization deploys, keeping these core principles in mind will help you maintain focus and stay the course. 

Mike Orzen is one of the early practitioners of Lean IT and contributed to the development of the “Three Ways of DevOps” found in The Phoenix Project. He has been practicing the application of Lean IT, Agile and DevOps for over 20 years. Mike is on the content board of LITA and a certified instructor.

 

Lean IT Summit Keynote

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Lean IT, DevOps & Agile – Learnings from Nationwide

Six years ago, Nationwide (an insurance and financial services company with US$26 billion in annual revenues) embarked on building industry leading software engineering capabilities. Their lean journey has enabled and engaged their 9,000+ person IT organization to deliver great solutions to customers and partners with ever-increasing levels of quality.

In this session, we’ll explore the lean system that guides all aspects of software engineering, service management and infrastructure including a lean management system from the frontline to the C-suite, a focus on problem solving, visual management, accountability, and what is possible when technology and lean come together.

The lean management system built at Nationwide is described in the book The Lean IT Field Guide, co-authored with the person primarily responsible for the transformation. Hear their stories and discover how you can benefit from their success!

Lean IT Summit – Lean IT Master Class: Building Your Lean IT Roadmap

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Program Description: The most difficult step to take in a Lean IT transformation (be it agile, DevOps, service management, etc.) is the very first one. Organizations fall into the trap of learning lean concepts and talking about the possibilities, but the initial excitement fades and the transformation never gets off the ground. Lack of alignment to organizational purpose, inability to figure out where to start, and fear of making mistakes all conspire to keep companies from ever getting started in the first place.

This one day workshop, based on the book, The Lean IT Field Guide by Mike Orzen and Tom Paider, will provide participants with an understanding of the foundational elements needed for a successful lean transformation and practical experience identifying and executing the key activities of pre-launch and day zero activities.

The workshop will focus on preparing you to implement a solid foundation of a sustainable lean transformation, not just focus on terms, definitions, and theory without application!

Benefits: In this interactive workshop you will:

· Gain understanding of the core elements of the Lean IT Roadmap and how to apply it to your DevOps/agile/lean transformation
· Identify your organization’s current strengths, challenges, and readiness to begin a Lean IT transformation
· Learn to apply key concepts, methods, and tools critical to successful transformation
· Acquire the skills to plan and launch a lean transformation using a case study simulation
· Reflect on how you will apply these concepts and tools to get started on the right path or to check/adjust in your organization

Who should take this class? Agile, DevOps and Lean IT practitioners of all levels + those responsible for leading real change in IT

The Importance of Work Systems, Sequence, & Adaptive Lean IT Systems – Part 4

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This is Part 4 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article originally published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

In the previous blog entry, team huddles and a visual management system were mentioned. These are both examples of work systems designed to encourage the specific behaviors we want to cultivate. There are many work systems that comprise a lean management system including problem solving, daily huddles, leader standard work, training, recognition, visual management, strategy deployment, measurement, and monthly performance reviews, just to name a few.

It is these work systems that impact people’s behavior most significantly by emphasizing and reinforcing those actions we want to see everyday from everyone. Where many organizations get into trouble is in the sequence and timing of how and when to introduce these systems.

SEQUENCE IS CRITICAL

Over the past twenty-four years, I have tried many approaches and witnessed what works and what doesn’t. Here’s the bottom line: each organization has its own culture, history, and work environment, so one size does not fit all. There is no standard deployment sequence or collection of work systems that apply universally. That said; there are some fundamental concepts applicable to all organizations.

1) Start by establishing a clear purpose throughout the organization. This is a prerequisite for success.

2) Acknowledge that the bedrock of lean is learning and that problem solving capability is the skill to cultivate if you are serious about transformation.

3) Strive to balance the two pillars of lean: continuous improvement and respect for people. Don’t make the common mistake of falling in love with tools of continuous improvement and ignoring respect for people.

4) Create a culture of accountability by building work systems that position your people to succeed, to learn, and to grow. This is true respect for people and promotes high levels of teamwork, engagement, accountability, and ultimately performance.

5) Work systems must be designed, built, maintained, and improved by the people doing the actual work. Outside support is fine, but the frontline people must do the work.

ADAPTIVE LEAN IT SYSTEMS

Whether you are considering bringing lean IT to your organization, currently applying it to IT operations, or determined to build a lasting transformation, awareness of the lean IT diamond and the importance of behavior, work systems, and sequence will significantly increase your odds of success.

At the end of the day, Lean IT is all about effectively responding to change by continuously improving adaptive systems. In order to be effective, IT must change its behavior and functional capabilities in response to its environment and the needs of the Business. When IT reshapes systems and technology, the adaptive change is directly relevant to achieving the goals and objectives of the organization.

SUMMARY

For IT organizations to evolve and become more responsive to the changing needs of the Business while simultaneously maintaining the stability and security they are held responsible for, IT professionals need to understand and embrace the behaviors, as well as the thinking, of Lean IT.

For additional information on how to mobilize a Lean IT transformation, see The Lean IT Field Guide – A Roadmap for Your Transformation.

 

The Importance Of Behavior – Part 3

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This is Part 3 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article originally published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

At the end of the day, all change comes down to altering our established patterns of behavior. Anyone who has attempted to make a lifestyle change (such as quitting smoking or eating healthier) can attest to how difficult this is.

It is interesting to note that most transformations tend to focus on training people in the new ways of doing things. We assume that if people know about a new (presumable better) way of doing something, they will automatically adopt it as their regular way of acting. Nothing could be further from the truth. If knowing about a better behavior caused people to change their actions and develop new habits, no one would be overweight, use tobacco products, or run on less than 6 hours of sleep!

We are all creatures of habit and become very comfortable with the way we’ve always done it, even when our routines become outdated, broken, and painfully frustrating. Why? Because it is really difficult to change the behavior of others or even ourselves. This resistance to change is a universal condition that, unless addressed directly and openly, puts all transformation efforts at serious risk.

MAKE/BREAK, CADENCE, & PREDICTABILITY

There are three factors you need to know about to effectively address this issue: make/break, cadence, and predictability. So what does it take to make or break a habit? I have confirmed it requires 40 days of practicing a new behavior before we can even begin to change old habits. At 90 days we have confirmed and strengthened the routine. At 120 days the new habit becomes deeply engrained as a part of our identity (how we see ourselves). At 1,000 days we have mastered the new behavior. Here’s the secret: the days must be consecutive! That’s right – if you miss a day, any day, the next day is Day One and you start counting from the beginning. I have personally used this approach to successfully affect change at both organizational and personal levels and it works.

Why is this approach so effective? People like routine and predictability – we are hard-wired to repeat what has worked before and to be skeptical of anything outside the conventional pattern. Most people drive to work using the same route, walk through a grocery store selecting the same items, watch the same TV programs, and go to bed at the same time – you get the picture. By enforcing a new routine and deliberately changing our behavior, we gradually provide the predictability and structure our human nature innately desires. When the changes make our work better, faster, less stressful, and prove to be more rewarding, that further reinforces the value of the routine and new habits begin to take deeper root.

As new work processes yield better results including more consistent quality, less rework, variability, and overburden, predictability of outcomes increases and we receive yet another dose of reinforcement – increased customer satisfaction!

THE KEY SYSTEM – PROBLEM SOLVING

An example may serve to clarify this approach to creating new habits. Let’s assume you have introduced lean problem solving to your IT group as part of your transformation. People have received training in basic lean concepts including PDCA, A3, and root cause analysis. The assumption is that once people understand lean problem solving, they will use it in their daily work. This rarely happens. In most cases about 10% of your people will be self-starters and try to apply lean practices on their own. The vast majority of people attend the training and think, “That’s interesting…” and then go back to work using their normal ways of getting things done. They quickly fall back to their comfort zone, which excludes the ideas and tools shared in the training workshop.

Applying the make/break, cadence, and predictability concepts, we would include problem solving as an essential element of our daily team huddles and visual management system. On a daily basis, the team would be coached by responding to questions of inquiry designed to foster new ways of applying what was learned during the training on problem solving. The only way people learn lean is by doing lean!

In the final post of this series, we’ll explore the importance of work systems and sequencing to build adaptive Lean IT systems.

Transforming IT Is More Difficult But Not Impossible – The Lean IT Diamond – Part 2

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This is Part 2 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

Today, many companies are actively seeking the benefits of lean IT and are undergoing constant transportation in their IT group. They are often familiar with lean and/or Six Sigma and have had some success with process improvement in other areas of the business such as manufacturing, accounting, and supply chain.

However, the landscape of IT, the complexity and dynamics of technology, the interdependency of its functional silos, and conflicting priorities when working with the Business, all combine to create a perfect storm of distinctive obstacles.

There is a key relationship that exists in all organizations. When understood and appreciated, it can provide clarity and direction to a lean IT transformation.

Let’s look at the components of the lean IT diamond and why it can be so helpful. At the top of the model, we begin with Purpose. A shared purpose is essential to create and drive a common intention, alignment, and commitment. Everyone in the IT organization (as well as the Business) needs to very clear on why we are in business, why we are transforming, and where we are vs. where we need to be.

If this shared understanding is not in place, you can be certain to see different behaviors, erratic degrees of engagement, and the consequential mixed results. Without a widely understood and collective purpose that people can clearly see within the context of their daily work, everyone is left on their own to identify what matters most and determine what they should do (or not do) about it. If you have ever witnessed pockets of improvement (aka islands of lean in a sea of waste), you can be assured there is a lack of understanding around shared purpose.

The next component is People. It may seem obvious that people are a central ingredient in building a highly effective organization. What is not so obvious, or at least publicly acknowledged, is that many work environments are abundant with uncertainty, disengagement, mistrust, apathy, fear, and political gamesmanship. In our first book, Lean IT Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation, I noted that people are often the only appreciating asset in an organization. When we treat people with respect and create systems and processes that position them for success, we cultivate trust, engagement, teamwork, and high levels of performance. Perhaps the most essential element in a successful transformation is to ensure the initiative is behavior-based. See the next post in this series for a discussion of behavior-based change.

Process represents the work we do to create value for our customers, to collaborate with our partners (the Business, vendors, supply chain, and outside resources), and to ultimately fulfill the mission of our organization. When processes are undefined, unclear, or not consistently followed, the effort required, the time it takes, the quality of the outcomes, and the frustration of staff and customers all become highly unstable and inconsistent.

The final component of the lean IT diamond is Information and Technology. It is useful to think of these two elements as distinct yet highly interdependent. With respect to information, IT is the mechanism that transforms raw data into useful and actionable information. IT, when done well, is the connective nervous system that joins people with actionable information.

Concerning technology, IT is the enabler of the business – capturing, organizing, and storing immense amounts of data, routine tasks, building transactional records, enforcing business process rules, managing secure access, all while providing work process functionality and visibility to all functional areas of the business.

The flow of complete, accurate, timely, and actionable information is a key determinant of the flow of customer value and organizational performance. When IT stops, the Business stops. When IT flows, information flows and the Business is positioned for success (of course it takes more than just great IT).

Transformation, Behavior, Sequence, and Adaptive Lean IT Systems – Part 1

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Updated article which recently appeared in the October 2015 edition of the Lean Management Journal

Transformation is today’s buzzword. It seems everyone in the lean community is talking about transformation. This makes sense given that we’ve spent the past several decades attempting to understand, copy, and adapt the improvement tools of Deming, Ohno, Shingo, and others and getting mixed results. Today we have only a handful of companies we might describe as Lean Enterprises and Toyota remains as the undisputed archetype. So what is transformation and why are so many companies pursuing it? Transformation is often described using words such as radical change, metamorphosis, revolution, and overhaul. Perhaps the most important aspect of a true transformation is that it is irreversible. This is the characteristic of lean transformation that has eluded most organizations. Granted, they have trained their people in the tools and core concepts, experienced process improvements through kaizen, made changes to the physical environment, introduced lean management systems, and have realized measureable results.

TRANSFORMATION IS DIFFICULT TO SUSTAIN – THE PUNISHMENT OF SISYPHUS

But what many organizations discover is that the momentum and energy required to keep their transformation going is being provided by a small group of people (usually the Process Improvement team, a cadre of lean coaches, or a charismatic lean champion). If they stop leading the charge, improvement work and the underlying transformation immediately begin to taper off. It’s as if organizational momentum is a large stone that needs to be constantly pushed up hill – if we stop pushing, it quickly rolls back down! This reminds me of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was punished for being deceitful by being forced to carry a huge boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down, for all of eternity. Many organizations seem to be stuff in a similar loop!

LEAN IT IS ESSENTIAL

Delivering value to the customer is a common objective of practically every organization in existence. In order to accomplish this, it is essential to deliver services, products, and information which meets customer-defined quality, at a price they are willing to pay, and at a pace that matches customer demand. With the advent of the Internet, smartphones, and unprecedented access to information, customer expectations of quality, value, variety, convenience, and delivery have been increasing rapidly and there is no end in site. In order to meet customer expectations, today’s business climate is categorically reliant on the flow of information. Modern-day business process improvement, a collection of principles, systems, and tools aimed at creating a culture of continuous process improvement has evolved over the past 100 years or so. Most recently, we have been witnessing an explosion of improvement methodologies in the Information and Technology space. This comes as no surprise given our insatiable need for the information we require to make timely, informed decisions in response to ever-increasing customer expectations.

In the 1980’s, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) emerged as a set of standard practices for IT which focused on aligning IT services with the needs of business (a novel idea at the time). ITIL has gone through several iterations and evolved to include a continuous service improvement component that embraces many of the tenets of lean thinking. Since then, we have seen the further application of lean in IT including Agile/Scrum, Kanban, Continuous Delivery, Lean Startup, DevOps, and Lean/ Agile Project Management.

I refer to this entire body of IT performance improvement as lean IT. Lean IT is the application of lean through to Information, Communication, and Technology. It’s a management system made up of two key pillars: continuous process improvement and respect for people. Lean IT is ultimately a learning system using a structured and disciplined approach to solving problems and pursuing opportunities. Lean IT focuses on engaging IT people to methodically improve IT processes in partnership with the Business to deliver more value to end users and enable the Business to deliver more value to end customers. This includes getting out on a regular basis to better understand the challenges and value equations of end users and see how information and technology are really being used. Lean IT is about engaging people, improving core business processes, and leveraging technology to enable the entire organization to accomplish more, create more, and achieve more with the least effort required.

In the next installment of this post, we’ll explore the Lean IT Diamond and that fact, although transformation is extremely difficult, it is not impossible.

Driving Transformational Behavior with Core Work Systems

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by Ben Linders on Aug 27, 2015

 

Mike Orzen will talk about using core work systems to drive transformational behavior at the Lean IT Summit 2015. InfoQ will cover this event with news, Q&As and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Orzen about the benefits that organizations aim for when they adopt lean IT, why adopting and reinforcing new behaviors is essential to creating sustained change for the better, core work systems and work processes for IT organizations, and common missteps that organizations tend to make in lean IT transformations and how to prevent them.

 

InfoQ: Can you briefly describe lean IT for the InfoQ readers?

Orzen: Lean IT is the application of lean thinking to Information, Communication, and Technology. Lean thinking is a learning system made up of two key components: continuous process improvement and respect for people. Lean IT focuses on engaging IT staff in methodically improving IT processes and technology in order to deliver more value to its customers. Lean IT is all about people and technology enabling the entire organization to achieve great results through great behavior.

 

InfoQ: Which kinds of benefits do organizations aim for when they plan to do a lean IT transformation?

Orzen: In today’s world, business runs at the speed and agility of the underlying information flow. The benefits of lean IT are essential to make it possible for organizations to perform at high levels of operational excellence. There are many rewards: improved team effectiveness and productivity, greater return on IT spend, superior project performance (quality, user-acceptance, delivered functionality, delivery time, and total cost of ownership), higher levels of engagement and accountability, greater levels of trust, communication, and collaboration with the Business, recruitment and retention of IT talent, and the creation of a fun and rewarding IT work environment.

 

InfoQ: Can you elaborate why adopting and reinforcing new behaviors is essential to creating sustained change for the better?

 

Orzen: Most companies embarking on lean (whether in IT or another part of their business) tend to initially focus primarily on the tools (value stream mapping, A3, standard work, 5S, etc.). Tools alone fail to change the deeply engrained habits we all bring to the way we think about and perform our daily work. These paradigms tend to lock people into “the ways we’ve always done it” and prevent change beyond a superficial level, let alone breakthrough improvement. That is why well over 95% of lean transformation initiatives fall short of their stated goals.

 

No one likes change when it is done to him or her, but most people willingly participate when they are part of the creation process. When people are respectfully engaged to make real improvements to the obstacles they deal with everyday, given the tools, time, and support they need to test potential improvements, and coached to reflect and learn from the improvement cycle, we unleash tremendous energy and excitement.

 

Thinking alone won’t make this happen. We’ve all heard the maxim, “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think you way into a new way of acting.” We lead with a bias toward action and that means changing behavior.

 

InfoQ: Your talk will be covering core work systems and work processes for IT organizations that want to become lean. Can you give some examples of this?

 

Orzen: Core work systems set people up for success by creating transparency, collaboration, and mutual trust among associates, supervisors, managers, and executives. These systems make it very clear what specific behaviors are expected of everyone. For example, a visual management system that clearly shows daily goals compared to actual performance highlights gaps between where teams need to be and where they are. When people know whether they are winning or loosing, they can make adjustments, communicate to stakeholders, request help, and escalate issues beyond their circle of control.

 

A visual management system creates the setting and context in which managers and executives visit the workplace on a regular, scheduled cadence to stand in the shoes of the people doing the work, understand their challenges, and actively coach, support and develop their people.

 

Another example is the problem solving system. I often work with companies that lack an approach for solving problems in a common, structured way. If you ask ten people how they go about solving a problem, you’ll get at least ten answers (sometimes more!). Without a united approach to the way people identify, define, understand, analyze, experiment, and ultimately solve complex problems, we tend to make guesses and try fixes based on unfounded beliefs and assumptions, often making matters worse!

 

When there is a common approach to how problems are defined, current conditions are analyzed, and potential solutions are developed and tested, the social fabric of an organization changes and drives new levels of engagement and results. PDCA, DMAIC, and Kepner-Tregoe are all examples of problem solving work systems. But the real key is not found in forms and templates, it is in the common language and behavior of team members as they encounter problems and opportunities for improvement.

Work processes are the methods, sequences, and steps we take to get the work done. When work processes are undefined or inconsistently applied, the effort required to perform work and the quality of the product or service are highly variable. Lean IT drives quality and as a result increases the flow of work. As this happens, the visibility and speed at which problems come at you are accelerated. In a lean IT work environment, work processes need to be stable, capable, standardized, and continuously improved. This is more of an aspiration than it is a final destination. As someone once said, “there is no finish line!”

 

InfoQ: What are the common missteps that organizations tend to make in lean IT transformations? Can you elaborate why do organizations tend to make these mistakes, and what can be done to prevent them?

Orzen: As I mentioned earlier, the most common misstep is the exclusive focus on lean tools. The most successful transformations are based on core principles, built through work systems, and adjusted through the tools. Another mistake is not engaging executives and managers appropriately and at the right time. Leaders, managers, and supervisors all have critical roles to play in a successful lean IT transformation. Sequence and timing are of critical importance and many organizations miss this.

 

A third oversight happens because lean is simple to understand yet deceptively difficult to successfully realize. The nature of information and technology, the interdependency of functional silos, working with the Business, and the complexity of technology, presents a very different domain with a vast array of unique challenges.

 

I have worked with organizations that had successfully introduced lean in areas such as manufacturing and supply chain, and then ran into a brick wall when they attempted to initiate a lean IT transformation. I believe the reason for this is the behavioral component of any transformation. Nowhere in business is this more pronounced than in IT. The very essence of technology is tools-based and siloed while the nature of the work is people-based and integrated – requiring high levels of communication, collaboration, and trust.

 

In IT, many organizations discover they need a roadmap in order to do the right things, in the right sequence, at the right time, and at the right pace. That was the impetus for our new book, The Lean IT Field Guide. Every transformation is situation-based, so each organization’s journey is unique – just as their infrastructure architecture, technology stack, and configuration is unique! That said, there are some common elements we find in all successful lean IT transformations.

 

InfoQ: If people want to read more about lean IT, where can they go?

 

Orzen: I can recommend five sources:

  • our first book, Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation lays out the principles and foundational ideas of lean IT,
  • our next book, The Lean IT Field Guide (available now for pre-order and on shelves November 2015) provides a roadmap for the work systems discussed),
  • my website at com has information and resources,
  • check out my twitter feeds (always on lean IT, lean, and related topics) @mikeorzen,
  • and visit the new Lean IT Association site, this is an international non-profit group dedicated to supporting a high standard of lean IT practice. Full disclosure: I recently was appointed to their curriculum advisory board.

 

Lastly, I can be reached at mike@mikeorzen.com.

Applying the Principles of Lean IT to Data Management – Part 2

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In Part 2, we take a look at how Lean IT can be applied to make significant improvements to data quality, reducing the wasteful rework associated with incomplete and inaccurate information. See Part 1 here.

For a practical example of Lean IT and data management, see the webinar Lean IT: Driving SAP Continual Process Improvement.

How Lean IT Can Help

Lean IT is a framework for deeply understanding Information and Technology in a new light through applying the principles and methods of lean. Lean is all about creating excellence in the workplace, in the work, and in the quality of information. Bad data produces inaction-able information, which leads to errors in judgment and behavior.

If there is a chronic lack of high-quality information, it’s impossible to sustain a smooth flow of work because fixing mistakes channels precious energy and mental capacity from your employees.

The illustration above is the principles pyramid developed while writing the book Lean IT. At its core, lean IT is about leveraging technology to deliver customer value with the least amount of effort required. In order to achieve this, we remove all unnecessary effort – ambiguity of process, avoidable mistakes, self-inflicted variation, corrections, rework, delays, and extra steps. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus on the principle of Quality at the Source.

Quality at the source means performing work right the first time, every time. Imperfect work (work that is incomplete or inaccurate) is never sent forward to the next operation, end users, or customers. We measure quality in terms of percentage of work that is accurate, complete, timely, and accessible (as defined by end users and customers). The critical nature of the quality of information is well known. We’re all familiar with the truism “Garbage in, garbage out!” Without quality information, the results will always be inferior and require heroic efforts and creative rework to meet customer expectations.

The essential factor of quality information is quality data. It is amazing that many, if not most organizations, focus the majority of their effort and resources on technology while paying very little attention to the quality of data within the system. You can have state-of-the-art hardware, application stack, network, connectivity, and security, but if you have data issues, the result is in-actionable information received by end users, confusion, frustration, errors, workarounds, and the accompanying pain as a result. This wasted, non-value added effort and annoyance only gets worse over time. Why? Because once people no longer trust the system, they adapt skillfully to perform their job outside of the system to get their work done!

The Promise of ERP

Today, complex business enterprises are connected and managed through integrated information systems like SAP. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has been around since the 80s and is both a blessing and a curse. The promise of an integrated system with a cohesive database that creates a single rock-solid record of “the truth” has been the vision of ERP systems since their inception. ERP is the ultimate connective tissue of the enterprise, enabling disparate silos of the organization to work towards common objectives, access information, maintain accurate records, and share information. Imagine trying to run a modern corporation without technology!

When actionable information is missing or unavailable, it is often hard to detect. People tend to rely on what the system tells them and often only discover that information is inaccurate and incomplete after the fact by hearing about a problem from downstream operations, end users, or worst-case scenario – their customers.

Data Quality, ERP, and Respect for People

In lean, respect for people refers to management’s responsibility to create a work environment where people are positioned to be successful and grow to their full capabilities. It means creating a workplace where everyone has the tools, processes, and information they need to do great work. It also means creating a culture where uncertainty and ambiguity are actively eradicated, while transparency and trust are intentionally fostered. Knowing your ERP system is housing bad data and not doing anything about it is the antithesis of respect for people, and sends a clear message to all that management places a higher priority on other things.

If poor information quality becomes a chronic issue within ERP, users lose trust in the system and rely on ingenuity to get what they need to complete their work. Spreadsheets, stand-alone databases, pay-per user cloud-based apps, in-house solutions developed outside of IT, and other inventive efforts by users add new layers of anonymous technology in the shadows of the ERP system. This creates a black market of information beyond the integration, security, and scrutiny of the IT department! The technical debt associated with shadow IT systems accumulates over time, crippling an organization’s ability to respond to complex performance issues, and blocks straightforward upgrades to system functionality.

As the sanctioned ERP system goes through controlled releases of functional modules and upgrades, informal, unauthorized shadow IT systems proliferate spontaneously at a very rapid pace driven by user needs, the bureaucracy of IT, and the distrust of ERP.

In my next post, we’ll go more deeply into how Lean IT effectively comes to grip with bad data by eliminating its creation at its origin.

Applying the Principles of Lean IT to Data Management – Part 1

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The Tyranny of Bad Data 

We’ve all experienced the frustration and pain associated with bad data – either we’re aware that the information obtained from IT systems is inaccurate or incomplete (and the non-value added work that comes with it) or unaware that the information is based on bad data and the cascading impact of taking the wrong course of action due to misinformation. It is incredible that so much is invested on enterprise technology solutions, as little attention is devoted to ensuring high quality data is the sole source of system information. Only a handful of companies have discovered how to exploit the power of lean IT to shorten time to value development cycles, while assuring data integrity.

The ultimate purpose of information and technology is to enable people to perform great work as effectively and efficiently as possible. From a lean IT perspective, we want to leverage technology to empower people to do excellent work with the least amount of required effort. Technology has the capability to gather, store, organize, manipulate, manage, calculate, analyze, summarize, format, and report limitless amounts of data in order to create actionable information. Technology that efficiently delivers bad information only serves to enable waste, delays, and poor results. For our purposes, information needs to possess the following attributes to be deemed actionable: accurate, timely, complete, and accessible.

For a practical example of Lean IT and data management, see the webinar Lean IT: Driving SAP Continual Process Improvement.

When bad data happens to good people

Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defense infamously said: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” In the same way, we do business with the data quality we have, not the data quality we might want! But what happens when highly effective technology processes inaccurate, incomplete, and out-of-date data; when bad data happens to good people? 

Scenario #1 – We know we don’t know…

If people recognize that the information they are receiving is not actionable, they are forced to choose from damaging alternatives like adjusting their course of action based on years of experience, assumptions, and perceived understanding. Some develop rules of thumb based on personal knowledge, while others devise creative workarounds to obtain the information they require when system information is suspect and unreliable.

Unfortunately none of these countermeasures confronts the root cause of the problem, nor guarantees a timely and accurate business outcome. Undocumented workarounds and tribal knowledge of what to do when the system delivers bad information may work in one instance and fail in another, and all of these actions are forms of guessing that are impossible to scale and sustain.

Scenario #2 – We don’t know we don’t know…

When people rely on information from IT systems, assuming accuracy, timeliness, and completeness, and that information is actually compromised, things get much worse. Bad data generates bad information, prompting people to make misinformed decisions, mistakes, oversights, and the creation of more bad data! The compounding impact of bad data and inaction-able information is a frustrating, downward cycle of errors, corrections, rework, and delays that force people to resort to heroic efforts to deliver mediocre results. Customers instantly notice a lack of service, timeliness, and quality. As employees become more aware of data problems, they begin to lose trust in the system and resort to the workarounds described in scenario #1, which may feel better and attain some results, but do not materially improve the situation. In fact, the more exceptions and workarounds to the way work is conducted, the more variability the customer experiences in service levels, quality, and delivery time!

In my next post, we’ll explore How Lean IT addresses the issue of bad data at a level that creates measurable, sustainable change for the better.