Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lean in IT

This weeks case study and recommended readings focus on various process improvement strategies and how they can be applied to different industries. The lean methodology, which was originally developed for manufacturing processes is now being successfully applied to a number of other industries from healthcare, construction, architecture and even IT. Thought the exact implementation of the ideology may differ from industry to industry, the ultimate goal is the same across, process improvement. 

My first experience with lean was when I was working with IBM Global Services back in India. Though I had heard about the term before, I never knew what it meant for a project to be lean compliant. IBM has its own team of lean experts which help projects within and outside IBM to improve efficiency using lean. The lean experts would work with the project team management to apply the lean principles across the project.

Though not directly involved with the experts, I had attended a day long lean training and could see the principles being put into action. There would be huge charts everywhere of the various value chains with post-its of the actual processes involved. One of the strategies used was the introduction of certain tools for better accountability of work done and for sharing various project resources. 

The application of lean in the IT industry can be a bit tricky. Unlike the manufacturing industry, where the idea of lean stems from, there is no physical work involved in the IT industry. Though some may argue that this makes it easier to maintain checks and balances and ensure that certain work is being done, this is not always the case. The tool introduced for work accountability involved all the employees to enter what work they had done at the end of every day. Though this was meant to streamline the overall process, all it ended up doing was adding an extra step. 

Though the application of lean in our project was largely successful, there were a few things that did come to my notice. The most important factor for the successful implementation of lean is employee motivation. Lean is not all about taking principles that worked for a company like Toyota and forcefully applying it to your industry/company. Its more common sense. Toyota did not have anyone to look upto. They did not have a set of principles to follow. What they did have was the motivation to continuously work towards making processes simpler and better. 

Unless this motivation is present in the employees of a company, no lean principle can help it.

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