Lean IT and the customer experience

Parry presenting 10The fourth principle of Lean IT is about getting IT staff at all levels to really understand how IT is working in the customer environment: engaging service managers, doing site visits and observing customs to understand that they’re really doing with the IT.

They really need to start developing measurement systems internally that look at the customer external outcomes and they need to do measurements that link internal and external effects.

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If you give people within the organization the right data to be able to interpret the effects of IT on the business, they’ll be able to make different decisions.

It’s about interpreting your customer data in order to improve the customer experience and the customer business outcomes.

Admittedly, that is not a role typically associated with IT but in Lean IT, it is fundamental to everybody understanding the customer outcomes.

Because the first principle of Lean even from the early days in manufacturing is to understand value from the customers’ perspective.

If you don’t get that right everything else that follows will have no better than chance to hit what the customer wants. and in todays business world, we want to be far better than chance.

This is about teaching everybody at every touchpoint what’s really going in the customer’s world, ringing that in and sharing it.

If you’re not doing that, its not Lean IT. Its just probably traditional IT done better.

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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.

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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.

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Meeting the needs of a new IT age: Amadeus Global moves into clear blue water

Read the full report

Read the full report

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?business strategy concept

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.

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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.

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Lean IT: An Overview

The Lean movement has been around for about 30 years since coming out of the Toyota Group in Japan.

Since then, it has been adopted and adapted by the service industry and now, IT in all of its manifestations: infrastructure management, delivery of services, networks, and the entire supply chain infrastructure.

Whatever business Lean goes into, the principles are always the same but the practices different but always in the aim of fixing problems.

business man writing business strategyIt brings an adaptive capability that allows the organization to adapt in ways that it wouldn’t think of before. Lean IT is a much more strategic player in advising business about what investments they should make and how they should use the IT.

Lean turns the problem solving process right on its head by looking at the conditions of problems and not the cause. Some will say that they are already doing that and that is not untrue. But the difference is the magnitude of the problem-solving: done typically, 10 to 15 per cent of problems are removed whereas with Lean, 40 to 90 per cent is the norm.

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The increase in problem-solving is not magic. It is the result of having the entire workforce advising on the process as opposed to an elite group.

Adopting Lean IT results in a massive change in perspective for the workers in the IT industry. Its not about bits and bytes and technical stuff: its about how it performs in the real world for the customer.

It’s about the workforce all asking: ‘what else can I provide the customer to help them achieve their goals?’.

In the coming weeks, I will be presenting a series of articles and accompanying podcasts exploring The Five Principles of Lean IT.