Applying the Lessons of Lean to Today's IT Operations
Insurance Experts' Forum, January 27, 2010
Our editor Pat Speer cites a new Celent study that demonstrated the importance of “an agile and flexible IT operation” that can support rapid response to unpredictable operating conditions, such as the financial tsunami that swept through in 2008 and 2009. However, is IT ready and capable of such an adaptation?
Our system for managing enterprise IT is broken. Millions of dollars are wasted every year on technologies and projects that either end up not being used, or render business processes more complicated than they were before.
Why can't the same lessons learned from the manufacturing sector be applied to enterprise IT management across all industries? I recently had a chat with Steve Bell, author of Lean Enterprise Systems: Using IT for Continuous Improvement, and co-author of an upcoming work on the topic, to get his take on “lean IT,” which emphasizes doing things faster and better to drive out inefficiencies.
The No. 1 takeaway from implementing lean methodologies into IT and software management is you don't cut costs simply because costs need to be cut, Bell says. “The quickest way to lose weight is to give blood, but the patient isn't very healthy when you're done. You're weakened, and you've lost a lot of your intellectual capital. If you simply try to attack cost, and short-term cost reduction, all you end up doing is killing the patient.”
Lean means more than simply cutting costs or streamlining, Bell says. Lean, as successfully applied to manufacturing, means doing things “simpler, faster, better, cheaper,” he says. “Notice that the last item on the list is cheaper. If you adopt a systems perspective into every business process. You find where the waste is and you drive it out, focusing on doing things faster and with higher quality, cost will naturally be driven out of the system.”
In lean IT, the focus is on collaborative teamwork—represented by all parts of the business—to deliberatively and systematically tackle problems. Right now, IT is forced to fight fires every day, Bell points out. The focus of lean IT is to put forth “a set of principles that says you are going to slow down in order to speed up,” he explains.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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