As strategy advisor to Amadeus during its recent IT transformation (as outlined in the recently published white paper ‘Cleared for Takeoff’), I have been truly inspired by what this organisation has managed to achieve.
In recent years, the world of IT provision has changed almost beyond recognition. Big Data and sophisticated software delivering real-time decision making is a far cry from the cards, racks and cables of old. As ‘Cleared for Takeoff’ clearly demonstrates, this fast-evolving scenario has enormous implications for technical teams and how they can maximise their value to organisations.
Central to all of Amadeus’ work in developing its Lean approach has been the ‘smarting up’ its technical teams, allowing them to:
- Carry out much of the decision making traditionally done by managers
- Develop understanding of new and constantly-emerging technologies
- Appreciate how these technologies impact on the customer
There are four basic signposts which help us to see what an agile or Lean organisation like Amadeus actually looks like. These are: engaging, learning, leading and improving.
Engaging: An awareness shift
In the traditional, ‘rack, card and cable’ world, technologists did not need to move beyond their organisation’s IT department walls. Once technology was delivered to specification, their job was considered to have been done.
In the Lean model on the other hand, technical teams must move out into the realm of the customer so that they can see how the IT they are supplying is actually performing, and how, in turn it helps the customer to deliver to their own consumer. They therefore start to obtain a much greater insight into how the company’s technologies are performing (or underperforming) as well as new information features which may need building in.
By involving not just the service delivery managers, but the whole delivery chain, the entire organisation begins to benefit from a heightened awareness of what its customers really want and need. There is also a much greater level of customer intimacy than would be evident in a traditional technology business.
Learning: Locking onto the customer’s world
For IT businesses, adapting to change means locking onto the customer’s world in order to understand, in fine detail, the impact of its products and services. They must ask questions like: what are we learning about the customer’s world? And once we have this knowledge, are we sharing it end to end – within our technology business, across all different technology disciplines? And are we sharing it with senior management so that together, we can develop an understanding of what it means for our business?
Leading: an activity, not a position
Once technical teams have a 360 degree view of their customer’s world, they can be given a much higher degree of autonomy, so that they can start to make decisions about fixing customers’ problems and installing new solutions. This shift has a huge bearing on the role of senior management, whose job now is much more about creating and sustaining the right environments.
What Lean Thinking teaches us is that leading is an activity, not a position. The Lean organisation shifts power from the top of the business much lower down, to the staff who are delivering the day-to-day ‘nuts and bolts’ of the business.
Rather than hold them within the tight constraints of frameworks involving delivering to a specification, the technicians’ focus is now much more on how we deliver, how we improve what we do, and how we can go beyond the specification. Giving these staff a greater sense of involvement encourages them to take on more responsibility and make more decisions – quite naturally. Their levels of learning and enthusiasm begin to increase as well.
Managers now start to say things like: ‘we are seeing people fix things we didn’t even know were broken’. Instead of just focusing on cost and utilisation of staff, their role has shifted from one of maximising people’s utility to maximising their creativity, ingenuity and intelligence. A very different kind of workforce has evolved, with a very different mentality.
Improving: not just thinking outside the box, working outside it too
The final important dimension in developing Lean Thinking is what I call improving. In the traditional model, improvement means staff working to make their workplace and their processes better. In the Lean model, staff have broken out of their silos and they are not just thinking outside the box – they are working outside it too. Consequently, they have a much greater understanding of how to make value flow to the customer.
Because staff are allowed to devise their own measurement systems, they are able to give greater value to the customer. And as customer’s requirements change, staff can change their measurement systems.
Harnessing the power of the people
Organisations which are able to embrace and implement the principles of Lean Thinking are inevitably known for three things: vision, imagination and – most importantly of all – implicit trust in their own people. These have been the foundation stones of the work Amadeus has done in creating a more agile and adaptive workforce, helping it become, in the process, a beacon for others in its industry to emulate.