by Raja Segaran
Lean is considered a philosophy of continuous improvement. A Lean organization focuses on increasing customer value, the elimination of waste and optimizing operations. The key components of Lean can be applied to all types of business and processes.
The Lean approach has been developed to identify and eliminate waste in processes to improve efficiency and promote effectiveness. The book “Lean Thinking” (Womack & Jones 1996) explains the Lean philosophy using 5 key elements.
- Value – as defined by the customer
- Value Stream – comprised of all tasks and activities needed to create the value
- Flow – activities should be performed with minimal interruptions
- Pull – provide what the customer wants when they want it
- Perfection – doing things right the first time
Lean IT is the extension of Lean principles to the development and management of information technology (IT) products and services. Its central concern, applied in the context of IT, is the elimination of waste, where waste is work that adds no value to a product or service.
Although Lean principles are generally well established and have broad applicability, their extension from manufacturing to IT is only just emerging. “Lean” thinking in service or IT is based on simplicity and achievability of goals. The above concepts boil down to four basic principles of “add nothing but value, empower front line people, add value rapidly and eliminate organisation barriers”.
Lean IT is principally about identifying and eliminating waste in the “production processes”. The possibilities for waste in IT are:
- Defects which increase costs and lower customer service
- Overproduction from misalignment between IT and the business
- Over-provisioning due to inaccurate capacity planning
- Waiting for applications to perform, manual processes to happen or issues to be escalated and resolved
- Processing that adds no value, such as writing (or reading) irrelevant reports
- Transportation, which could mean onsite visits to resolve hardware or software, or inefficient collaboration within project teams
- Excess inventory such as multiple data repositories
- Excess “motion” or effort spent fire-fighting, reworking or performing maintenance
- Unused expertise due to lack of knowledge retention, inability to capture ideas and innovation, or repetitive, mundane tasks resulting in loss of talent
In addition to reducing wastes and improving a specific process, Lean IT is also about building a culture, one that respects all employees and enables them to pursue opportunities to improve their work and share ideas for continuous improvement.
What Goes Well with Lean IT?
Projects & benefits, IT & service management, process & value, Lean IT & … ?
Going Lean doesn’t mean throwing out the way you’re currently doing things – it offers a better approach to meeting today’s business objectives.
Agile has become the byword for business. Lean IT’s approach to reducing costs, delays and complexity supports business agility and works hand-in-hand with an Agile approach and the concept of DevOps – where agile team structures, practices and tools bridge the gulf between IT teams developing systems and those implementing and maintaining them.
Lean IT fits right in with other efficiency-oriented methodologies. Six Sigma process improvement and JIT, which were also adopted from the manufacturing industry, are naturally complementary.
Lean IT is also compatible with any number of other IT service delivery standards: ITIL, ITSM, PRINCE2, SCRUM, PMBOK, COBIT, etc.
Where is Lean IT Going?
IT has become so very fundamental to business operations – as well as an ever-increasing business cost – that doing more with the same has become an imperative, waste has become a burden, and project failure has become an unacceptable risk. The focus is now on reducing complexity and getting to market faster than your competitors, as well as innovating to mitigate the risk of being left behind in our industry.
The Lean IT approach is just as applicable to IT operations and delivery as it is to service and product development. As the development and maintenance of applications typically represents the largest proportion of IT budgets for larger organisations, that’s where Lean IT usually starts. Business analysts and application designers are already familiar with mapping value from the very start of a new initiative.
What is gained with Lean IT?
A Lean approach to continuous improvement provides us with a concrete method to examine work processes. The tools we use are tested and the cross-functional teams often bring new perspectives to the table.
Lean thinking can provide improved value for the customer by:
- Improving the quality of work processes
- Reducing errors or defects in work processes
- Reducing costs
- Improving flow of the process
- Simplifying complex processes
- Reducing lead time
- Improving employee morale