Category Archives: Lean 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.

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