Category Archives: Continuous Improvement

The Amazing Power of a Game – What I learned from the facilitating The Pheonix Project Simulation

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I recently had the opportunity to become certified to lead a simulation based on the best-selling IT book The Phoenix Project. When I went through the training, it was apparent that the developers of the simulation had created something very special. The Phoenix Project simulation is not a product as much as it is an experience. The realistic scenarios, challenges and pain points embedded in the game created a creative tension in a safe environment and allowed everyone (including me) to discover new insights into applying DevOps to improve flow throughout the value stream: from the business request through IT and to customers!

DevOps and Agile practices are built on the back of Lean principles that go back decades to before the Toyota Production System. As someone who attempted to apply Lean to IT long before DevOps came into existence, I have always said that DevOps is about creating an environment where it is safe to observe, experiment and learn based on outcomes. I was fortunate to meet with Gene Kim many times while he was writing The Phoenix Project. We always talked about lean thinking, lean systems and lean tools. Those discussion eventually morphed into The Three Ways – the core principles of DevOps!

Alignment with the business changes the feel of work

The simulation put people in a position where It was easy to see and feel the impact of not being aligned with business and not being coordinated with all the elements of it (AppDev, Engineering, IT Ops, Change Management, etc.). In each round the team was able to reflect and learn from the experience and experiment with new ways of working. What we all experienced was profound: the DevOps principles, systems and tools are effective only when the team directly experiences the frustration of a broken work system and works together to see, understand and act.

What was amazing to see was how quickly people took on the personas of the functional tole they had been assigned. The woman who took on the role of Retail Operations (you may remember Sarah in the Phoenix Project) became rather aggressive as she demanded results. The CISO (John in the book) constantly nagged people about SOX-404 issues. And of course, the CEO was a royal pain on everyone! Although we all knew this was a simulation game, everyone reported the stress and tension they felt as we embarked on round one with no real plan of how we were going to transformto a DevOps team.

You can’t improve what you can’t see

 What became instantly apparent among the chaos of trying to get the work done was that the team had no visibility of all the work nor priorities. True to life, there was more work that our people could handle so we needed a way to see the work, compare it to our capacity to do the work, identify trade offs and then work with the Business and other stakeholders to set priorities. Once the team was able to accomplish this (through some trial and error) we all could feel the alignment of purpose, see the smile on peoples’ faces as we created value and feel what collaboration between silos is really like.

 This discovery was just the tip of the iceberg. As a coach and facilitator, I was able to ask the team questions that positioned them to reflect on what had just happened and see within themselves additional changes that needed to take place to improve the quality, speed and volume of our deployments. Some of the other topics which were experienced and later expanded on include:

  • A recipe for coordination among silos
  • Making time for improvement, learning and technical debt
  • DevOps without Value Stream Mapping can be hazardous to your health

I’ll share some thoughts on these topics soon.

At the end of the day, DevOps is about creating an environment where it is safe to observe, experiment and learn based on outcomes. The Phoenix Project Simulation creates an environment to give everyone that experience. From there, they return to work and begin their journey.

 

 

 

Change Fatigue, Psychological Safety and the Leadership Void: Why Most CI Initiatives Don’t Last

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Continuous improvement has been around for decades, and yet there are few examples of organiza- tions that have successfully created a lasting culture of problem solving, learning, and improvement. Many books, blogs, and workshops are available on these topics, and there is no shortage of resources on the tools and techniques of Lean process improvement. We understand the mechanics of improvement, but stumble when it comes to connecting with people so they engage and participate.

What are the factors that hold people back from investing themselves in a culture of continuous im- provement? For many years, I have served as a coach, trainer, and consultant to numerous organizations across many industries and have consistently encoun- tered three key barriers to creating a new normal, which includes daily problem solving, employee initia- tive, and higher levels of participation.

In a CI culture, improving the way we work is more important than doing the work! Most people spend their day doing their work and view improvement as an optional “when I have time” activity.

Change Fatigue

Over the years, multiple programs have been rolled out (e.g. Lean, Six Sigma, Operational Excel- lence, Agile, TPS, Total Quality, etc.) with prom- ises of making work less chaotic, creating work- life balance, and making things better. While these initiatives are well-intentioned, over time people be- come exhausted with the new “flavor of the month” and no longer get excited about the envisioned benefits of process improvement.

Psychological Safety

People need to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, expressing when things are not working, discussing problems, asking for help, making suggestions, and even disagreeing with the way work is done. It is not easy speaking up when one feels it is risky to disagree with their boss, question current policy, or simply ask why something is done a certain way. The freedom to ask “What if ?” is not something most of us are com- fortable doing when we are not certain where the con- versation will lead.

Here’s the key: it is precisely this level of safety we all require before we will step out and speak up. The engagement and participation that is so crucial to a CI cul- ture will only develop in an environment of psychological safety and nowhere else. Improvement requires learning, learning requires experimenting, and experiments seek to better understand cause and effect. The process starts by asking questions. But no one will ask questions or speak up if they feel it is unsafe.

Leadership Void

Leaders, managers, and supervisors set the tone of the workplace and must model the behaviors necessary for a CI culture to grow. Yet all too often, they unintentionally do the very opposite. Leading with Respect is a collection of specific leader behaviors that create an authentic con- nection with people to develop a background of mutual trust. Trust is the basis of all relationships. It is the glue that makes a team a team.

Building a great organization requires effective leader- ship. A key element that is often misunderstood is what it means to lead with respect. This involves awareness of a leader’s focus and intention and how well the leader con- nects with people to create an environment of mutual trust and sustained high levels of performance. This is accom- plished through the application of seven core practices. We’ll explore why leading with respect is essential in a suc- cessful transformation, what respect looks like in practice, the seven core practices, and how they impact people to drive lasting change for the better.

The Third Way of DevOps: Stacking the Cards in Your Favor

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This post was written for DevOps.com

In the first bit to this  post, “The Third Way of DevOps – From Knowing to Being,” we shared our thoughts on effectively applying knowledge to put the Three Ways of DevOps into practice. This blog explores a complementary dimension: How to build confidence when faced with a seemingly impossible task.

This is the all-too-familiar setting. You’ve seen an opportunity to improve things and genuinely want to do something about it. But you soon feel the clarity and anticipation draining out of you. First there’s the pressure of the day job. Then there’s the inertia of your co-workers, who are oblivious of or indifferent or hostile to your ideas. And finally, as if these concerns weren’t enough, you’re faced with the difficulty of unlearning old habits and developing new ones. In short, you don’t take action on what you have learned and know.

Self-efficacy

Expressed in the somewhat abstract language of the theories of Planned Behavior and Reasoned Action, there’s a gap between behavioral intention and actual behavior. A plausible explanation for the gap is low self-efficacy, defined as the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce desired outcomes. It’s the belief we have in our own abilities, specifically our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us and complete a task successfully. This is a crucial precondition because investigations have shown that peoples’ behavior is strongly influenced by their confidence in their ability to execute that behavior.

If-Then-Else

So why doubt your ability to change? Well, when a change seems large, the gut reaction is to feel the need to come up with a project plan. Because a plan creates the confidence that when the steps are taken, the desired results will be achieved. Without a plan, we’d be irresponsible risk-takers. That’s how we’ve been taught to think. And rightly so—at least, in a predictable environment, where you can determine which steps will have which effects. If you work with IT, you are likely to think in terms of If-Then-Else. This is how we would like to believe IT always works. Predictably.

If-Then-Maybe

However—and this might be the biggest “however” you’ve come across for a while—things are not always predictable. Not unpredictable in the sense that it should have worked but something just went wrong because we didn’t do enough homework; unpredictable as in simply unknowable. Unpredictable as in possibly seeing a pattern of behavior in hindsight, but never having been able to predict it, let alone control it. Unpredictable as in “complex adaptive systems,” as they are referred to in the world of complexity thinking. It’s no longer If-Then-Else; the name of the game is If-Then-Maybe.

Complexity Thinking 

Complex adaptive systems are all around us but if you’ve been used to thinking that things are—or could or should be—predictable, you tend not to see them for what they are: one of kinds of systems that exist in nature. The Cynefin sense-making framework describes systems in terms of five domains: obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic and disorder. Obvious and complicated are both predictable domains, where something in the complicated domain needs a bit of work to discover the predictability than when it is obvious. Complex and chaotic are unpredictable domains, the main difference being that something chaotic is dangerously unpredictable and therefore needs direct action. There is a fifth domain: disorder. You are in this domain when you don’t know which of the other four domains best describes the current situation. A word of warning: People’s cognitive bias will often lead them to think that they are in their usual domain, in which they feel most comfortable.

Step by Step 

The way to introduce changes in complex systems successfully is to take it step by step. Because you can’t predict the results of a step, you have to closely monitor what effects—both desired and less so—each step creates. Then, based on your assessment of the new situation, you determine which next step to take. Rather than moving in a straight line toward a “to be” end state, you move each step to the “adjacent possible.” You make good use of the disposition of the system; in other words, where the energy is tending to flow.

No Big Answers, Just Little Questions

So, it’s not a case of looking for the big answer. It’s about a series of small questions. The Toyota Kata approach recommends asking ourselves (and others) these questions:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Where are we now?
  • What obstacle is now in our way?
  • What’s our next step, and what do we expect?
  • When can we see what we’ve learned from taking that step?

A key concept is that we should work towards the next “target condition.” This is an interim goal on the way to whatever we want to achieve. It just describes where you want to be next, not how to get there. It labels the future set of circumstances that lie just beyond our current level of understanding. It will typically have to be achieved between a relatively short period between a week and a few months; otherwise, it will be ineffective. How we will get there will emerge though the process of experimentation.

Stack the Cards in Your Favor 

So the next time you feel inspired to make a (little) difference, don’t be discouraged by the prospect of having to think everything through in detail. This is often even contra-productive. The liberating realization that you can take things step by step, is good for your self-efficacy, increasing the chances of actually achieving results.

This article was co-authored by Mark Smalley.

Lean IT Forum 2018 – Closing Keynote

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Accelerating Innovation with Lean, Agile and DevOps

From the perspective of Lean IT, Agile, and DevOps what is innovation and why is it important? Lean IT, Agile, and DevOps provide a solid collection of tools and methods to create more effective IT teams and value streams, but what steps and tools can we leverage to drive innovation and rapid advancement within IT? This talk explores the central drivers of accelerating innovation and provides specific examples of its application in IT environments. How do I make sense of the various methods of Lean IT, Agile, and DevOps to drive innovation? Discover a unifying model you can use to pull these disciplines into alignment and avoid confusion from the “big three.”
Join Lean IT pioneer and innovator Mike Orzen as he pulls together themes from the day’s great speakers.
Thrilled to have Pierre Masai, CIO of Toyota Europe, begin the summit with a talk on “The route from Toyota Production System to Lean IT, Scrum and DevOps!” I have known Pierre for several years and always learn a great deal whenever I hear him speak. What a privilege to have him attend this year’s forum.

Accountability: Not What You Think it is…

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Accountability. It’s a word often feared in society for being associated with the blame game – being singled out when things go wrong, even if the reasons are beyond your scope of control. It seems we are always hearing about the importance of creating a culture of accountability.

Unfortunately, when managers and associates hear the term, they often flinch! Expressions such as “We’re holding you accountable” are often seen as code for “You are liable and will be blamed if things do not go as planned!” This is a major problem for any organization that is serious about creating and sustaining a lean transformation.

If we consider the lessons of LEI’s Transformation Model (shown above), we see that the entire foundation rests on the basic thinking and fundamental assumptions (both overt and unseen) that drive current culture. For leaders who wish to transform from a command-and-control culture to a more participative one, a key assumption is that, when treated respectfully, people will align to a common purpose, deeply engage in both doing the work and improving the process, and assume higher levels of accountability.

The image includes employees taking on tasks without being told to do so, showing initiative to improve quality first and efficiency second, and genuinely caring about their customers, team members, organization, and community. This basic assumption that is so central to a lean transformation becomes null and void when accountability is seen as a liability that management assigns, rather than a self-assumed role that people undertake of their own volition.

When there is evidence of intentional avoidance of accountability, it suggests that people don’t trust the intentions of the organization, leadership, or even fellow teammates. They may be avoiding the risk of potential conflict that comes from taking on a task which the outcome is uncertain. This is true problem solving and it can be scary enough without the fear of being blamed if things don’t work out well. It is interesting to note the role that trust plays in all this.

Creating a lean environment is essentially creating a learning environment. In a learning environment, we move away from experts who tell others what to do and towards learners who run experiments (rapid PDCA cycles) to better understand root cause(s) and validate effective countermeasures. Accountability must be self-imposed in order for people to truly grasp the concept, take ownership, and take on appropriate levels of commitment.

But this can only be done when the fear and apprehension most people associate with words such as accountability are openly addressed. When reflecting on your own organization, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Do we blame people when things don’t go as planned?
  2. Do people self-assume accountability or do we assign/delegate accountability?
  3. In our current culture is there fear, anxiety or hesitation around accountability?
  4. Do we ask people to be accountable before asking if they are capable?
  5. Do accountability and authority always go together? When should they?

To learn more about creating a culture of accountability and respect through effective leadership, sign up for Mike Orzen’s pre-summit workshop, Lead with Respect: Practicing Respect for People to Enable Engagement, Teamwork & Accountability, at the 2016 Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit this June. Learn more about Lead with Respect and other Summit workshops on the summit webpage.

Note: this article also appeared in the Lean Enterprise’s Lean Post in February of 2016.

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.

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