It's time for IT departments in Asia Pacific to get Lean

I just read on Twitter that apparently it is too late to get Lean or Agile. I do question why the two have been bundled together (one is a development methodology, one is a management principle), but either way, I disagree with this statement - at least part of it. Moving to an agile development process is not a decision that should be taken lightly - it involves significantly re-engineering many processes, including much of the program and project management - and this is not a trivial issue! So the statement around Agile I agree with!

However, getting Lean should be on the agenda for all CIOs - in fact, I would argue that Lean is more important now than it has ever been due to the current changing needs of customers. Lean management principles are fundamentally about focusing on delivering the best outcome for the customer with minimum waste. And with major changes going on with the way people consume IT, focusing on the changing requirements for IT customers and delivering them efficiently is extremely important.

Lean typically uses many small changes to achieve this outcome. And it is this point which makes Lean particularly relevant for the current economic environment - you can remove waste (read: save money) through many small improvements - and as a general rule, small changes don't need serious change management capabilities."Lean thinking" should be at the core of all that we do in the IT department - and running some Kaizen blitzes to make small improvements and remove waste should be on the agenda.

The five "Lean thinking" principles are:

  1. Specifying value by specific services/products
  2. Identifying the value stream by service/product
  3. Making value flow without interruptions
  4. Letting the customer pull value from supplier
  5. Pursuing perfection

When we translate these to the IT world, they should be:

  1. Define IT in terms of the services/products it is expected to deliver.
  2. Streamline IT capabilities by services/products.
  3. Ensure that processes and information flow.
  4. Establish business-driven governance to pull value from IT.
  5. Monitor and measure IT’s delivery for continuous improvement.

The challenges that IT departments have when getting Lean is their ability to (a) define customer requirements (particularly as they are currently in a state of flux); (b) link those customer requirements to IT services; and (c) identify where waste lies in their processes (i.e. ensuring that the value flows). In Asia Pacific in my experience there is also very little knowledge of Lean management principles within IT departments - so there is also an education curve to overcome.

What becomes increasingly clear is that a good Demand Management function is essential to the longer term success of Lean management principles within the IT department. While we can certainly start to become Lean pretty quickly, in order to achieve the full benefits of Lean, a strong demand management capability within the IT department is required. IT's ability to control not only the supply but also the demand for IT services is essential in delivering the required functionality to the customer (i.e. the business user OR the end user) at the price they are willing to pay.

Forrester Principal Analyst Alexander Peters, Ph.D. recently wrote an excellent document "The Lean Foundation For Business Service Portfolio Management" (this document is available for Forrester subscribers). This document goes into more detail about what IT organizations need to do in order to get Lean. I recently presented on this topic around Asia - so if you are after some more information about the wholeLean IT topic feel free to reach out to me on tsheedy@forrester.com - or add your comment below.

And as one final comment, I appreciate that on Twitter it is easy to take comments out of context - so I may have the wrong end of the stick on the whole argument about it being too late to get Lean and Agile. If you have views on this I certainly encourage (and enjoy!) healthy debate between analysts, IT end-users and IT vendors. So if you agree or disagree feel free to comment below.