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Lean IT

Wanted – Process Cleaners

“Can you please pick up the rubbish that is just in front of you?”, I heard my spouse was yelling at my kid, though I could have been at the receiving end. If you are managing a home “full of kids” you would have realised the challenge of keeping the home tidy. Every week when I vacuum, I am surprised at the amount of dirt that gets accumulated.

Let us shift our focus our IT work environment. If I am struggling to keep the home tidy with handful of people, who keeps the department “clean”. No, I am not talking about the physical cleanliness. I am referring to the “process waste” that gets generated over the course of doing the “work”. Any non value adding activity to the customer is a waste.

Let us go back in history to understand “waste”. After, August 15, 1945 end of war with Japan, Toyota faced a daunting challenge: How to succeed against Western mass production auto giants poised to enter Japanese market? Taiichi Ohno, a Toyota employee was given a challenge: “Catch up with America in three years.” Japan had a small & fragmented market, depleted workforce, scarce natural resources, and little capital. Lean evolved as a coherent response to this challenge over a number of decades –a dynamic process of learning and adaptation.

Lean defines “waste” as an activity that does not add value from the customer point of view and performed only once. The traditional Lean principles identify 7 forms of wastes. They are

  • Transport
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over production
  • Over processing
  • Defects

All good stuff! Common sense! What big deal? Hang on a minute….they are for manufacturing – we do not “produce” things if it is a service organisation. For example, we do not have “inventory”. Hmmm… what about those emails sitting in the queue for your action?  What about approval that cause “waiting”?  We may think “over production” is not applicable to us since we are in the service industry. Really? What about those 10 reports we produce to the business that nobody looks at it?

It is not rocket science to apply the Lean concepts in any organisation.  The question is, do you have a responsible function? There can be a quality department – their focus may be to perform audit and certification. There may be ITIL consultants – who may be implementing some selected processes. Can we create Chief Process Officer (CPO) role? Or is it CIO’s responsibility?

Recently I have come across a new CIO who stopped the service desk to sending out incident notices. This organisation’s IT department believed in communication and it is possible that they are “over communicating”. (Can be categorised as a lean waste – “over processing” ). As a result, the users were receiving excessive communication. The new CIO felt it is “too much” and decided to stop one fine morning.

Great example – a CIO pulling his/her socks to remove “waste”? Not really! I am sure there will be another waste creeping up in the next day.  A CIO can certainly lead by example. They also need to ensure that keeping the IT department “clean” is every one’s responsibility.  In my analogy, it is like teaching the kids how to keep things tidy.  Unless the kids (and parents) stop littering or clearing the rubbish, the house can not be clean. If the parents intervene every time they see that there is rubbish, it will cause frustration. There need to be a collective agreement on “waste” and the entire organisation need to be trained to identify the “waste”.  In addition to every body clearing “process waste” we need a role for periodic vacuum cleaning too!

The “anti dote” for waste is to continually introspect the operational processes and identify improvements.  A common approach in Lean is to hold “Kaizen” events. It is a focussed meeting where every impacted stakeholder participates. They all focus on a problem at hand and agree to try a solution. The solutions may not be a multi-million ERP implementation – it could be a simplification of an approval process.

It seems so obvious.  Especially in this current economic situation, where CIOs do not have budget to invest in expensive changes, empowering the employees to do small, step wise improvements can do wonders to the productivity and morale.

Are you ready of Process Cleanup?


About Murali Ramakrishnan

Murali is the Managing Director of the boutique consulting firm "Process-Symphony". Process-Symphony specializes in IT enabled business process orchestration. http://www.process-symphony.com.au http://www.kloudax.net.au


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