Welcome to Lean and IT

Posted on  by Paul Youldon

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will discuss how Lean thinking can drive technology decisions and IT services.

Let’s start with the adoption of new technologies in the workplace.

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the most senior executive in an enterprise responsible for the information technology and computer systems that support enterprise goals. CIOs are challenged to keep up with modern technology as well as build effective working relationships with business executives who often do not understand how IT serves business needs.

The CIO often adopts new technologies for the following reasons:

  • “Rusting Out”: infrastructure products, such as Microsoft Windows Server 2003 are reaching “end-of-life” support July 14, 2015. This means that the vendor, Microsoft, will not continue to support this product, including not providing security patches to protect the software from external security threats. This event has prompted many IT departments to plan for upgrading this software, which supports many business IT systems.
  • “Mandated Systems”: as companies merge through buy-outs, acquisitions, or divestitures, it is common to see data centre consolidation, rationalization of e-mail systems and the retirement of legacy or less favoured technologies. IT organizations are “told” to adopt one standard system.
  • “Bigger and Better”: as technology changes and new tools emerge in the market place, the case for replacement can be compelling and enticing with the promise of better productivity.
  • “Executive Preferences”: when Blackberry hit the executive cadre of many organizations, there was no turning back. The device and its secure mobility services were adored. It became a status symbol and was the key technology tool used in the workplace.

Let’s look at our Lean thinking approaches new technologies.

Lean found its origins in the Toyota Production System, where there has been no shortage of technological innovation and progress. What does Lean offer us with respect to our adoption of new technologies?

In the 2004 book, “The Toyota Way,” author, Jeffrey Liker, offers a view into Toyota and how they became so successful in the auto industry. In the book, he describes a trip he took with the University of Michigan’s Dean of Engineering to Japan. The Dean was asking questions about the use of IT at Toyota to Mikio Kitano, who at the time was overseeing Toyota’s largest industrial complex. Kitano was becoming impatient with the questions. To make the point, he pulled out a system diagram created by one of the IT specialists as a proposal for the assembly plant. Kitano said he sent the flow chart back along with the IT guy who brought it to him and told him. “At Toyota, we do not make information systems. We make cars. Show me the process of making cars and how the information system supports that.” With this guidance, the IT department responded with a new diagram showing the assembly lines that represented how Toyota made cars. At the bottom, it showed the relative role and contribution of the information systems to the production of cars. Kitano was pleased that it showed IT supporting the core business and not the other way around.

Here is a practical quote from Eiji Toyoda, who was a member of Toyota Motor’s founding family and an architect of its “lean manufacturing” method:

“Society has reached a point where one can push a button and be immediately deluged with technical and managerial information. This is all very convenient, of course, but if one is not careful, there is a danger of losing the ability to think. We must remember that in the end it is the individual human being who must solve the problems.”

What are the key takeaways for IT managers and business leaders hoping that new technology will address current business problems?

  • Follow Lean methods to understand the core business processes that may need automation.
  • To examine new technology, first align key processes with a future state Value Stream Map so that technology is not supporting old and inefficient processes.
  • Use the key principle of the Toyota Production System “Genchi Genbutsu” which means go and see it to understand how the technology may affect your value-added business. Spend time with the staff and technology to see it in action. In the end, your valued staff must use and embrace the technology.
  • Use just enough technology that desired value stream processes are supported, spend time with system vendors so that they understand what is important to your business. Try not to become a victim of technology where it actually detracts key staff from value-added functions.
  • Build long-term capacity within the staff (e.g. website team) and don’t contract out your entire technology service offering so that you become dependent on the outside partner.

In future articles on Lean in IT, we will discuss Lean in the context of typical IT services and processes, such as ITIL, IT project management, service desk management and software application development.

For more on Lean, see Mike Boucher’s blog on Lean implementation in the workplace to ensure success.