Defining Lean

We recently held a “jam session” of five teleconferences aimed at moving IT beyond its traditional hunker down mentality in tough times, to instead use this climate as an opportunity to make real improvements in how we run IT.


The first call took on the topic of creating a leaner IT. There’s plenty of research at Forrester on lean thinking, but the term lean is so “in” right now, that I’m seeing multiple definitions emerge. Odds are, someone outside of IT will come knocking on your door asking when you’re going to “get lean.”  Here’s how to answer.


First, tell them what lean is not.


It’s not just cost cutting.  Blind cost cutting, led by the business or by IT, but too often in isolation from one another, only creates more waste.  We know the drill.  The <insert your industry here> IT shop cuts infrastructure and operations staff before fixing the systems management processes inherited from generations past. Fewer staff + still broken processes = costs remaining flat (at best) and lower system reliability.  Not leaner, just more broken.


It’s not just consolidation. 6% of jam session attendees said their firm had been very successful at consolidating one-off systems and activities. Why so low? First of all, consolidation efforts are hard and carry their own risks. Second, consolidation initiatives often concentrate only on assets and orgs, neglecting root cause problems: Bloated and/or duplicate processes.


It’s not always a methodology. Process improvement methods like Lean Six Sigma and the Agile family of software development methods have been around for years. Don’t confuse a lean methodology based on multiple gradations of belts (no disrespect; it’s all good stuff) with a simple way of thinking.


Cost cutting, consolidation, and rich methodologies can all be part of the antidote for bloated IT. But simplify your definition of lean into one of eliminating waste. And consider it more a mindset and culture than a guide.


Some not-so-usual suspects...


During our call, I asked the analysts to come up with some advice in the area of lean thinking and eliminating waste, advice that went beyond the usual suspects. Here are the nuggets that jumped out at me.


1) One of the biggest areas of waste in IT is over-planning or planning horizons that are too long for this economic climate.  Set an aggressive timeline for when you’ll complete any plan. Then, cut it in half.


2) Do the same thing to any assessment work, whether it’s of processes, assets, standards, etc.  If you’re spending more than two calendar months assessing a current state, stop, or get rid of the consultant.


3) Here’s a great rule of thumb for addressing org or process consolidation as part of a lean movement.  Start by identifying those activities that absolutely must be local or business unit-specific. From there, assume everything else is fair game for standardization and a shared approach.


4) Design IT processes – especially demand management processes - so that they kill off bad ideas really fast. Nothing saps morale or productivity more than a bad idea that just lingers.


5) Don’t allow lean thinking to be traded off against quality. True lean methods are designed to improve quality and learning continuously. Make sure this is part of your internal positioning.


6) Whether you tackle lean through cost-cutting, consolidation, and/or system optimization, treat it as more than just an ad hoc project. Treat lean thinking as an ongoing program or initiative, likely assigned to a PMO or other governance structure for stewardship.


Sidebar: Check out this report, hot off the presses, on software’s lean future.


Post your questions or share your organization’s biggest area of process waste, and what are you doing to improve it.


re: Defining Lean

I think the theme of eliminating waste is right on target. Virtualization, Consolidation, and Compression often capture the headlines, but one area of waste elimination that is often overlooked is business transaction waste. In our experience, over 80% of the world's databases are grossly under tuned resulting in excessive CPU consumption and mediocre response times. Optimum IT Cost Cutting requires that the performance management life cycle be exploited to identify, isolate, cure, and verify the elimination of transactional waste. By doing so, businesses run faster on existing hardware resources without upgrades and can be more successful at server consolidation initiatives. We typically help organizations cut CPU utilization waste by 30-90% and measurably improve response times within 48 hours or less.Thanks for a great blog post/article.Cheers and Happy Holidays,ScottScott HayesPresident & CEO, DBIIBM Data ChampionIBM GOLD ConsultantIBM Advanced, Industry Optimized, Business PartnerOracle Technology Network

re: Defining Lean

Tom, I could not agree more in principle. Indiscriminate cost cutting is pure stupidity. Consolidation has be possible and that needs the right vendor. Methodology does nothing but create extra overhead. Yes, quality and continuous learning are the right path. So what is it that will put things right?Organizations have to create an environment that enables a focus on business capabilities that are not rigidized processes. Why would anyone want to restrict people in servicing their customers? We at ISIS Papyrus focus on creating more and better service opportunities rather than restricting and hard-coding current ones. The times of rigid processes are gone. Give the business users the fully business (data, content and process) context for the customer, solely restricted by their role authorization and that will be it.Yes, lean functionality and continuous learning are the trick! But how do you suggest that people do that with all the software overhead they have in place? Your well meant suggestions can not be implemented with current technology.You need a system like our ISIS Papyrus Platform to get rid of long analysis, modeling, simulation and all the other IT overhead. Let people simply do the work they need to do and make sure you can audit and monitor. We took this a step further with the Activity Recorder to let users create support wizards, Natural Language Rules for boundary conditions, and the User-Trained Agent that will discover the complex event patterns based on user activity. That will create an adaptive environment that continuously improves quality without all the other overhead.Question: Do you really think that people (in business and IT) are ready for that? The votes are still out on that one ...

re: Defining Lean

Scott, I agree that database configuration and SQL statements when not properly tuned can lead to excessive CPU and memory consumption – resource waste. I have come across several customers that often resort to throwing additional system resources and upgrading their servers to solve the problem, rather than identifying and nailing down the issue. Although, DBMS technology has improved over the years around automation and self-tuning capabilities, some gaps still remain and tools can definitely help address this gap, especially in eliminating waste. Besides tuning, we find that archiving inactive data – which typically represent 70% in production environments, can also help reduce CPU utilization and eliminate storage, besides improving the overall manageability and efforts required to upgrade a database.Cheers,Noel YuhannaPrincipal AnalystForrester Research