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Lean IT: Empower Your People

All of the five principles must be seen together because they all contribute to changing our focus and our approach to work at the operator, mid-manager and senior manager levels.

This principle is about giving power to those lower down. They know the conditions that conspire to create problems but feel unable to do anything about it.

parry presenting 7What typically gets recorded up at the top of a business are cleaned up reports: ‘it looks good and we want to make sure the targets are okay’.

In the Lean IT world we actually want to service all of the problems at the grassroots level and enable that level to take action on them.

We don’t escalate problems or get a centralized process re-engineering group to come in and sort it out . In Lean IT it is the people themselves continuously improving. Continuous improvement is a real-time in-line activity where problems are solved all the time.

Highlighting a problem, identifying  and detecting the error, correcting the error, and then going the whole way to close that loop to prevent that error involves a lot of collaboration at a very detailed level. In technology it’s not the process thats wrong but rather, the intricate steps within the process at a very deep level that causes the problems.

So we need to give power to the people to solve those problems at that level. In turn, the mid management level need to clear obstacles that stop staff from solving problems.

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Most of the problems are at a low level in the organization. But senior managers often act as if they are at the top level. They see major incidents and see the reports on major incidents and feel empowered by that.

What they don’t see are the thousands if not millions of near misses that take place lower down the organizational structure just because root conditions hadn’t conspired to make something happen when they were looking at it.

I’ve seen many incidents where we’ve seen similar problems come in and theres been very little impact. A second later conditions have changed and bang, it boils over, the very same low level problem.

So the signs are there but in a non-Lean IT organization they don’t look for them. They just wait and manage the catastrophes when they happen.

Parry Presenting 4

Lean IT: five principles to engage your workforce

You may like the idea of Lean IT as a different perspective which gives an insight into a  broader customer base outside of your client but it take time to start moving your workforce to understanding that.

I have developed five basic principles to engage a workforce to enable that.

The first principle is that all staff, whether senior manager, middle manager, help desk or front line technical or software designer, must base all decisions on objective data.

Parry Presenting 4What we really need to do to uncover the fact of a situation is something we call ‘A3 thinking’.

Its called A3 thinking because we like to say its all done on one A3 size piece of paper.

Its part of a coaching method that we have in the Lean community. What are we looking at, what did we see, what did we make it mean, what is the data? Are there other ways of interpreting this data? Do we have the whole picture? Who do I need to talk to to verify this?

Because we don’t want data: we want facts. Facts are what drives the business.

What we found in Lean is that most of the facts required to fix it are not IT related. They’re either process, behaviour or measurement. From our calculations, only about 15 per cent are actually technical problems, and even those problems start with non-technical errors.

So understanding what’s really going on is very important, a discipline really, and your workforce needs to be encouraged to use critical thinking, to start questioning each other to ask if there’s another way to look at it: to ask if theres any data missing, is there a way to run an experiment to determine the best solution. This is a much more explorative workforce and you can see these are the seeds of adaptiveness.

The second principle is related to the first about the data. Its about spending time understanding what are the root conditions of the problem.

There is a big difference between root conditions and root cause. Root causes are often the point at which you stop investigating further.

A root condition is the series of conditions that conspire to allow a specific problem to exist and persist.

To use a very simple analogy, consider that you had a fire, put it out and wanted to make sure it never happened again.

A fire has three root conditions, fuel, oxygen and heat. Now if you remove any one of those the fires goes out. but is that the root cause?

No, the root cause is those three coming together.

When any one is removed, the fire goes out. So it gives the impression that its been fixed it, but it hasn’t, not really. Because all three elements are involved, not just the one.

If you’ve ever seen a failed rocket launch, you’ve likely heard the controller counting down before the launchpad cancellation. The instant something goes wrong, the first thing you hear is a call to get everybody to stop, record and collect their telemetry, to capture their information.

Lean business consultants in Europe

Why is that?

Because root conditions can conspire so that when they are there together – even in that one instant – we get disaster. But when we go back and look, that instant has moved. and we can’t find it. Unless the data is captured very early on, the real root cause will never been found because the data has been lost.

The incident may give an impression of randomness to a casual viewer but in reality the root conditions combined to create a disaster.

NEXT WEEK: More of the Five Principles

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Lean IT challenge: linking the value chain

If you’re in the IT business and think your goal is to just focus on the customer and deliver exactly what they need, then you’re probably doing it wrong.

This is why Lean IT makes such a difference. Lean IT asks us to see each of your clients in their value chain: their suppliers, professional services and supply chains to name a few.

It gives us a unique position as an IT provider in that we can look upstream and downstream from our customers business. We see how we can deliver our services to our clients to enable us to help them deliver more to their customers.

business man hand use mobile phone streaming travel around the wThat calls for a very different perspective from the IT consultants of the past. Usually they would say something like ‘oh you want this application: here are the specs’ and then walk away.

That consultant never saw the other problems that arose when their client interacted with other businesses.

One of my clients, Amadeus, supplies a range of services to airlines, hotels and travel againsts among them.

As a consumer of travel services I am dealing with many companies and Amadeus are dealing with many clients.

As a consumer my journey starts when I need to make a trip. I will do research, timings, proxies, itinerary, hotels, how to get the the airport: what we call the customer journey.

That journey touches many companies, one of which could be one of Amadeus’ clients.

Amadeus realizes the information needed to support the consumer is spread across many different companies.

That’s what we call a value chain: different companies who all have vested interest in the customer.

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So how can we collaborate across all the companies to benefit the consumer?

The issue is who has the information and if they’re willing to share it.

When consumers travel they want it all at the touch of a button. They don’t want to hear that you can’t get them the information they need. They want all of that hassle taken away.

The technology is there to do it. What’s not there is this holistic view as to how to get all of the companies to share this information.

That challenge is the exciting world that is in front of us.