5 Basic Tools that Enable Lean IT
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 10, 2013
“I'm from the it department, and I'm here to help.” Does the utterance of that phrase stir relief or angst among your end users?
I was thinking that as I viewed a recent presentation on lean IT by Steve Bell, co-author of "Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation."
A couple of years back, I posted an account of how one major insurer — Nationwide — was adopting lean IT principles into its own operations. It's a topic worth revisiting, as we have a set of principles borrowed from the industrial world that can make a big difference in insurance industry operations. The main difference being that instead of manufacturing Toyotas, we're insuring them.
Bell points out that the core philosophy of lean IT builds on agile software development principles. Essentially, he points out, an IT professional well-versed in agile will not run back to his or her computer to crank out new code when presented with a business problem. Rather, his or her response is more likely to be something along the lines of: “I’m here to prevent more software from being written. We want to write less code, not write more code faster.”
That cuts right to the heart of lean IT — to be able to produce highly effective solutions for the business, with simplicity, minimal waste, high quality, and deep end-user engagement from beginning to end.
Here are some of the basic tools needed to boost Lean IT, as explained by Bell in his book:
• Structured, deliberative thinking: “While IT professionals are thinkers and problem solvers, they are usually under intense time and budget pressure,” Bell writes. “As a result, they often jump to quick workaround solutions that do not address the root causes. Lean offers tools that help IT and businesspeople slow down and take the time to assess a situation properly.”
• Teamwork: “In order to align business and IT activities and investments, they must work together as partners – solving problems and simplifying processes first, then carefully applying information systems as appropriate,” Bell says.
• Standardized work: “Standards are developed, documented, and continuously improved by the team members, providing input for software requirements, documentation, training, testing and support.”
• Measurement: Standardized measures are needed to track the progress of lean IT approaches.
• Demand management: “IT organizations commonly have backlogs that are years long, and are often lacking clear prioritization or decision-making processes,” Bell explains. “By working with the business to manage priorities and create level demand, matching it to available capacity to create a steady pace of work, an IT organization can become more responsive.”
“Lean IT encourages team-driven, iterative, small, and rapid changes to business processes and the supporting information systems,” Bell says. “IT and business associates work together, orchestrating change and rigorously applying [structured] thinking to every situation.”
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