Tag Archives: process improvement

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).

Too Busy For Improvement

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The number of people I meet who tell me, “I don’t have time to make improvements to my work,” amazes me. “It’s all I can do to keep my head above water!” is often the point they drive home. Have you ever heard the voice in your head say something to this effect? A perceived barrier is very real to the person thinking it, and something needs to be done to counteract the paralyzing effect of these thoughts.

 

A paradigm is a mental map or pattern of how we view the world. Some paradigms help us (e.g., belief in respect for people) while others hurt us (belief that young people don’t care about doing a good job). The “I don’t have time to make improvement part of my daily work” paradigm is particularly pernicious. Here are the thoughts and actions I use to help others and myself shift to a new way of thinking and abandon their old paradigm:

 

  • Accept that work processes are either getting better or it is getting worse. Left alone, processes atrophy and decline into a state of disorder due to the inevitable changes that occur and interdependencies along the value stream (think hand offs, conflicting priorities, and lack of visibility). Standard work is not sufficient to stem the tide of process degeneration.
  • A key reason we don’t have the time to do improvement work is because we are consumed with unplanned This is the work that eats away at whatever discretionary time we think we might have. Primary sources of unplanned work include rework, variation, break downs in the flow of information and materials, overburden, ill-defined work processes, and the unforeseen surprises that stem from conflicting priorities and a lack of transparency of the work (backlog and work in processes).
  • Daily process improvement is the only way out of this trap! The only way to free up time to do more important (read: process improvement) work is to begin to chip away at the sources of firefighting and rework that are generating your unplanned work.
  • Start small – it is better to consistently practice your improvement work for 15 minutes a day, than to begin with the intent of spending an hour a day and then abandoning your commitment after a week from failing to find a free hour in your day. Daily practice is the key thing here. Aim for 40 consecutive business days of a new practice to create a habit. We tend to get good at what we consistently think about and do!
  • Get Visible – there is tremendous influence when we make things visible to our peers. Creating a simple board that shows the date, topic, action taken, and next step(s) can be a game changer. A quick glance at such a board can quickly tell others whether or not daily improvement work is taking place. This step takes courage because you are making your commitment public. It also works because no one likes to make a commitment and not follow through.
  • Get Kata – you don’t have to discover an effective routine and thought process to support a move towards daily improvement. Mike Rother’s gift to us all is Toyota Kata[i]. This book skillfully explains the activities of daily problem solving, improvement routines that can be practiced and mastered, and the critical coaching element essential for developing people and creating internal problem-solving capacity. If you have not read this book – get it!

 

What techniques have you used to successfully counter the “I don’t have the time for improvement” paradigm?

[i] ­­ http://www.amazon.com/Toyota-Kata-Managing-Improvement-Adaptiveness/dp/0071635238