How Lean Principles Can Benefit Process-Driven IT

In 30 years of working with, installing, and even uninstalling IT systems, I have yet to find an IT environment that is 100 percent efficient. In fact, most aren’t even 50 percent efficient, and typically they are plagued by one or more of the following problems:

  • Systems that are over-constructed;

  • Systems requiring duplicate data entries;

  • Systems that have numerous workarounds;

  • Systems requiring some processes to be made by hand; or, in extreme cases,

  • Systems that require processes to be done by hand so that the data can be manually entered into the computer and be maintained in a database

For many companies, IT tends to be a functional silo removed from the organization’s core operations. All too often, that leaves us with too much data or the wrong kind of data — both of which work against the goal of IT, which is to help system users make good decisions. We need to break that pattern.

If we think of IT as part of an organization’s core business, with processes just like any other business unit, we can begin to think about process optimization — and the best approach to process optimization is Lean.

IT Efficiencies and IT Waste

Lean offers the tools useful for making improved decisions that will result in increased IT efficiencies. Based on the principals of the Toyota Production System (TPS), it is usually thought of as a construct for manufacturing. But, in fact, Lean can easily be focused on eliminating IT waste and improving IT efficiency by doubling, if not tripling output. Among its tried and proved tools and principles of success are:

  • Lean Management (TPS) Principles

  • A3 – 9-Step Problem/Improvement Analysis and Reporting

  • Six Sigma Variance Reduction

  • Cycle Time Analysis

  • Value Stream Mapping

  • Spaghetti Charting

  • Value Added vs. Non-Value Added Activity Analysis

  • Bottleneck Assessment

As for waste, it typically is the result of a lack of understanding of user expectations. Waste can also occur because of the re-work needed to correct previous inefficient traditional methods and because of poor planning. In fact, there are any number of ways in which an IT organization’s processes can end up having been “designed by circumstance” rather than “designed purpose,” resulting in the following kinds of waste:

  • Over-production: The result of “just-in-case” IT work authorized in anticipation of a potential event at the expense of applying resources to known value-added efforts

  • Waiting: The delays that occur between activities that increase total cycle time

  • Unnecessary Transportation: In IT, this equates to the amount of time it takes to navigate through a series of applications to accomplish a highly repetitive task

  • Over-processing: This occurs when a lack of standardization leads to time spent re-inventing the wheel

  • Inventory: In IT, inventory is backlog, and when the organization’s workload is unevenly distributed, some people wind up with enormous backlogs, leading to poor throughput performance and lost revenue

  • Unnecessary Movement: Includes the inefficient flow and movement of individuals trying to access the tools they need, and the inefficient movement of data within the system

  • Defects: Bad code and inadequate documentation are examples of IT defects

  • By using Lean principles and techniques to identify these wastes, you can create streamlined IT processes that have been “designed by purpose.”

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