Lean has been helping companies streamline their production, eliminate waste, and generally improve the way things are done for many years. Initially, the concepts behind lean were primarily used only in companies and facilities that were directly involved with physical product creation, such as manufacturing plants, factory floors and things of this nature. However, over time the lean methodologies have been adapted and implemented in almost every other type of business, ranging from health care to information technology, and many more.
When done properly, lean can help improve virtually any work environment to help eliminate waste, improve communication, and to help ensure that the products or services being developed are indeed something customers will be interested in.
For instance, when working in an information technology environment, it is important to be able to understand how lean strategies can be implemented, and why they are so important. The following are some of the most significant reasons why lean IT strategies should be taken seriously by any company that uses technology in their business (which is almost all of them!).
Lean Promotes Ownership
One of the things about lean strategies in an IT environment is that virtually every task completed is owned by an individual. Even if a person does not do all the work for a particular project, he or she will be directly responsible for overseeing it. This creates a sense of ownership, which can help in a variety of ways. It will give other teams a single point of contact for obtaining updates, providing feedback, or requesting changes. This will also allow the owner of a specific project to drive the progress directly, rather than having to rely on large committees or other types of groups to receive pertinent information.
It is important to note that just because one person owns a process or project does not mean that he or she can simply dictate things to other groups. Instead, that person is there to manage the value stream of the project, and to help ensure that it is providing the company with the end results that are needed and desired.
Data Driven Decisions
Any IT company or department of sufficient size will need to have one or more people who are dedicated to gathering and analyzing the data that is received. This is commonly known as analytics, and it is one of the most underutilized strategies in most businesses today. Those who specialize in analytics can identify trends and other information both within and outside of the company. These trends are often the best way to pinpoint wastes so that they can be addressed and eliminated.
In addition, when a company is able to make decisions based on data, it is much more likely to be successful. Data driven decisions help to get past personality differences, or various other problems between different departments. When done properly within the lean methodologies, analytics can really change the way a department or even an entire company operates.
Technology is Becoming All Encompassing
Over the past couple decades, technology has moved from a new, small industry to something that is essential to almost every type of business. There are very few medium or large companies that don’t have an IT department, and many of them employ hundreds of technology experts at any given time. While this has revolutionized many industries, it also has some risks. Specifically, IT departments can fall into the trap of trying to dictate to the other areas of a company what types of solutions can be provided.
Lean IT helps foster improved communications between the IT departments and the operations areas, allowing the operations teams to get what they need to improve the business. For most industries, IT is a support department which provides innovative solutions to problems the front line employees are facing. If IT stops seeing it this way, their solutions to problems will be much less creative and effective. Lean IT helps teach the operation teams what is possible, and teaches the IT teams how to provide others with the solutions they actually need.
In far too many IT organizations or departments, there is little intentional innovation going on. The teams may develop new things when prompted by specific requests or improve existing systems based on new technologies that are available. However, what is lacking today is the true ‘out of the box’ thinking that once drove IT departments to unparalleled levels. Lean IT helps to create environments where IT teams are encouraged to come up with revolutionary new systems that can help the entire organization.
Of course, it is important not to abandon the constant flow of improvement which is needed. Nonetheless, lean prompts the workplace environment for IT departments to be able to really see the potential flow of new ideas or systems, and then also how to understand them and act on them.
IT Teams in almost all types of organizations have been sucked into the idea that they should primarily be running on long term goals. The technology goals in many companies are 1, 3, and 5 years out into the future. While it is certainly good to have a road map in place for the future, it is almost impossible to create any sort of accurate plan for technology like this. The technologies available in 5 years, for example, will likely be dramatically different than what we have readily available today.
While it is possible to plan out the types of goals the IT department may have, it is a waste of time to get down to the detailed decision making surrounding the plan. Instead, lean IT can help a company to create that long term road map, without getting overly detailed beyond the next 3-6 months. Individual projects will get the bulk of the detail, which allows the IT team to harness the latest technologies and systems for each project. This helps the department and the entire company run more efficiently, and have less waste in the form of using outdated systems or ideas.
One of the most powerful things about working in IT is the fact that in many cases, solutions can be created when there isn’t one out there already. When a company runs into a problem, they don’t need to just work around it or give up on that particular process. IT can help develop programs or systems that actually solve almost any type of difficulty a company has.
Whether there is an existing program or system in place or the company needs to develop something from scratch, almost nothing is impossible. Lean IT will help companies decide whether or not it is a good use of resources to work on developing innovative solutions to particular problems, or if it is not worth the investment.
And Much Much More…
The above areas are really just the tip of the ice berg on what lean IT can do for an organization. While lean IT doesn’t necessarily change any one specific area of IT, it should change the culture of how things are done. Essentially, lean IT is the platform which allows all the other decisions and actions to be made more intelligently, and allows them to be completed more successfully. When implemented properly, lean IT can help any IT department dramatically improve what they are able to offer the company as a whole.
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