Category Archives: Transformation

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.

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.

Real Transformation: Enabling People to Adapt, Make a Mark, and Engage

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Unless your team puts their individual interpretation into lean methods & tools, the transformation simply will not become embedded and quickly fades away. When you look at an old school picture, who is the first person you look for? If you are like most people, it’s you! There is actually part of the brain that lights up when we see an image of ourselves, or an object that sparks our self identify. We feel good when we identify with who we are, especially if we are part of making something better through a challenge – a situation, a relationship, or the unmet needs of another person.

 

In order for people and teams to take responsibility for the work systems and outcomes of their area, they need to see themselves rooted in the process. This means that their ideas, challenges, hunches, frustrations, and experiences are reflected in the way work processes are improved over time. They have to get their fingerprints on the work processes to care enough to own outcomes. People self-select responsibility for process when they know their opinion matters and what they do and say has a direct influence on how things change.

 

When workers see their own reflection in the work they do, they identify more deeply and become vested in the outcomes. Any countermeasure aimed at specific problem is a temporary fix at best. The best teams expect that today’s solutions will certainly not last long. When teams understand the fleeting nature of today’s customer demands, they naturally anticipate the need to check for change and adjust work practices as needed. Improving the way work gets done becomes part of doing daily work.

 

In order to make the right changes, a clear understanding of purpose must be in place. Objective measurements, some of which are under the direct control of the team, are essential here. When those closest to the work align with purpose and own their process, behavior, and the resulting outcomes, they participate and contribute at a heightened level of engagement.

 

When lean tools (like value stream mapping and A3s) are hoisted onto teams without the opportunity to accept and assume ownership, we disrespectfully dump a load of tools and training on them, and then expect people to connect! This is how the term “accountability” gets such a negative connotation. It’s crazy to hold anyone accountable when they have been given no reason or opportunity to engage in the change. They don’t see themselves in any of it.

 

Try to see it from their perspective: “I don’t feel my opinion matters, I don’t know whether we are winning or losing, I am not clear on our purpose or how my work contributes towards it.” With that outlook in place, they then consider their manager’s directive, “Hey, get engaged with lean, take ownership, and make improvements!”

 

What would you think?

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