Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How IT Can Stay Relevant Utilizing Lean Principles

Today in business it's not uncommon to see a diverging opinion of the value information technology (IT) delivers. Often the gap is fueled because IT executives have unique sets of challenges and complexities which cause them to focus on different deliverables from that which their business counterparts expect.  Most IT leaders evolved through the traditional IT ecosystem and haven't gained the business experience which their peers have in focusing on value delivery.  This chasm is commonly the cause of the movement for IT leaders to get a "seat at the table" or "more in tune with the business." I completely understand this effort but i've always been a bit humored at the effort to have an executive work towards just getting a seat at the leadership table.  Unfortunately it's very common in technology to keep the leader hidden in the closet keeping everything running.  Regardless, IT is more relevant than ever but must adapt it's value position or it will find SAAS providers invading their domain.

Over the last 10 years there has been a positive movement within IT organizations to focus on value delivery (agile, kanban, lean).  Consistently we hear of two types of IT, firefighting IT and what I will call innovative IT.   Firefighting IT is waking up daily mapping the fires they will fight just to keep the lights on or the business running.  What a horrid way to live your life.  Innovative IT on the contrary positions themselves as a value add to their business peers by continually finding ways to innovate.  Or
in other words an IT organization that strives to continually improve and deliver value to the organization.  Firefighters live the IT of the 90's.  Often it's not always their fault they spend time keeping sins of the past running.  Old technology which requires life support is a drain on innovation. Firefighters are so busy keeping the plates spinning they never have time to say yes to new projects.  The majority of IT groups find themselves in this second group and socializes themselves as a cost center.  Firefights justify their value through concepts such as Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) or at best a cost benefit analysis.

Innovative IT sees themselves as part of their business and always looking for opportunities to improve their value delivery through seamless integration within the business value streams. This effort requires effective management systems that prioritize work and align daily activities with those goals and objectives that are most important to the organization. The focus of management is to create stable processes and standardized work which consistently deliver value to the customer.  To be sustainable it must be simple to understand and execute, providing guidance while not getting in the way. It cannot be too controlling or rigid; otherwise, it will suppress creativity and learning, hindering improvement and innovation.  Wow, you say.  Great to think that way but impossible to do.  Not true, you can do this and you can make your mark but utilizing lean concepts.

Steve Bell and Mike Orzen in their book Lean IT elegantly define this concepts by saying "Lean IT engages people, using a framework of Lean principles, systems, and tools, to integrate, align, and synchronize the IT organization with the business to provide quality information and effective information systems, enabling and sustaining the continuous improvement and innovation of processes. Lean IT has two aspects: outward facing, supporting the continuous improvement of business processes, and inward-facing, improving the performance of IT processes and services." Bell, Steven C. (2012-01-04). Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation

This is a hard balance, IT organizations are always faced with threats from outside and inside.  They have to consistently protect themselves from risks that can literally produce threats to their organizational livelihood (think Target).  Additionally SAAS  based tools such as SalesForce.com have created scenerios where IT may be defending its existance from providers who can continually deliver cheaper and better (For more on this).  Finally, IT groups have developed a complexity about them that makes it hard to manage let alone innovate.   These challenges are not lost on most IT executives.  In an effort to deliver software faster (faster value delivery)  agile has become an industry in its own.  Although agile is an exceptionally valuable tool it tends to reside more in the activities in the value stream and less a responsibility of leadership (this is open for debate but for this discussion I will leave it alone).
When new leaders or managers come along and try to innovate they are often countered with comments such as "This is the way we've always done it." or "Our business is different."  The pace of change in IT is exponential relative to the business change so not only must IT provide service today.  They must support the legacy of yesterday while planning for tomorrow.  Additionally they are akin to rebuilding the jet while in flight every time they plan to initiate a new technology or process.  It is no question why IT and their business partners can be misaligned.  Based on these constraints there is not a better group to utilize lean principles then IT.  

Lean IT enables a simplified, visible track for business process change throughout the organization, focused on delivering value to the customer. Lean IT is identified through (PPT)

  1. People - Only through people do we (working in cross-functional teams) identify the problems and their root causes, which are often found in the process itself and not the technology.
  2. Process - When the process is improved (and often simplified), the people may find that the supporting systems can also be streamlined or removed altogether. And when system changes are required to support the process improvement, the future state of the process (defined by the team) helps to articulate system requirements, while the team guides their design, selection, development, implementation, maintenance, and support.
  3. Technology - To focus of your team is through IT but it can only be done first through your people and your processes. 
The focus of Lean IT as described above will need to be your lighthouse constantly.  PPT can never take a back seat to the perceived threat of the day.   There are countless books and consultants who can show you the tools to create a lean framework.  Be warned the tools don't maintain your journey towards lean IT.  Again Steve Bell says "You must create a system of lean management which in turn shifts your culture.  A cultural shift will support long term sustainability towards lean.  Introducing Lean
management and information systems requires discipline, time and reflection. Lean principles are even more difficult to embrace, yet they eventually come to influence behavior throughout the enterprise. Values and principles must have time to become internalized within the unique culture of each organization. Nonetheless, it is difficult to begin with values and principles alone, because they are intangible. In order to achieve a sufficient escape velocity and trajectory, an organization should launch with a focus on problem-solving tools, then bounce off the atmosphere established by successful pilot projects , giving the organization time, momentum, and confidence to develop sustaining systems and principles.  Bell, Steven C. (2012-01-04). Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation

Look for more on this subject on the essential systems required for a lean IT transformation.  Please let me know your experience and if you are looking for a great resource of information please take the time to read Lean IT.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Enterprise Wide Problem Mapping: Step 2 in Enterprise Transformation


This post is focused on identifying and prioritizing constraints within an organization as part of the transformation process.  It's important as leaders and knowledge workers that you take the problem solving (or as some call it Root Cause) step very seriously and more importantly patiently.  After all problem solving is usually the original intent for the majority of transformation efforts.  Womack describes four essential Lean management states of mind that must be cultivated for an authentic transformation with problem solving being a large component:
1. The Lean manager eagerly embraces the role of problem solver.
2. The Lean manager realizes that no manager at a higher level can or should solve a problem at a lower level—problems can only be solved where they live, by those living with them.
3. The Lean manager believes that all problem solving is about experimentation by means of Plan-Do-Check-Act.
4. The Lean manager knows that no problem is ever solved forever.
James Womack, “The mind of the Lean manager,” Lean Enterprise Institute Electronic Newsletter, July 30, 2009.


My first blog post was a summary of the steps which need to be taken in order to start an enterprise transformation by briefly discussing the management components which much be in place for any transformation to begin.  This second blog post was written to introduce the idea of thinking about organizations horizontally (value stream).  The first steps in an enterprise transformation are slow but are very important.  What is often overlooked is most organizations simply don't grasp how much help the average manager needs in learning to see the value stream or how eagerly managers  embrace the mind map once they see them. Now if only every manager and every mapping team can achieve and sustain the effort to understand current state.

Without a mind map (or other identifier) of the current state picture defined, your problem identification and consequent solutions will be hard to socialize.  Furthermore this activity is likely the first time you or your leaders will have seen your organization in this light. It will be  shocking with how large and thorough this map will be, especially considering this isn't an "organizational map".

All this work has not yet provided anything which traditional change programs would be considered a "win".  That's just the point, this is not a program.  This is a cultural transformation which will take time  between when this starts to when you will start to measure improvement.  It's important at this point to be patient as this phase in the process sees the problems and must have restraint to not try to solve them as they are identified. Be patient, you will get there.

The mind map is complete, now what?  Edward Deming said it right when he said most problems are because of process not people.  As a result it's important not to assess blame in these exercises.  There is little value in blaming others for the problems as it creates an atmosphere which does not facilitate positive results.  It's a good idea at this point to continue involving members of the team who created the mind map(s).  No manager at a higher level can or should solve a problem at a lower level. (And one of the worst abuses of lean tools lies in trying to do just this.) Instead, the higher-level manager can assign responsibility to a manager at a lower level to tackle the problem through a continuing dialogue, both vertically with the higher-level manager and horizontally with everyone actually touching the process causing the problem. Womack's lean law of organizational life is that problems can only be solved where they live, in conversation with the people who live with them and whose current actions are contributing to the problem. But this requires support, encouragement, and, yes, relentless pressure from the higher-level manager.

This point is where different methodologies and frameworks will diverge as well.  There is no right or wrong way to move forward from here.  The many variables of your situation as well as what type of organization you are will dictate the most sensible path.  You can use many different methods to determine the size of a problem as well.  The suggestion I will give is simply one path of many that can be successful.  Once a problem map has been identified you can easily insert it to the method which you find best suits your company (Theory of Constraints, BPR, TPM, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, ETC).

Create a mind map of your issues.  What I mean by that is take the original mind map and create a correlating issues map.  Don't stop with the first few problems you encounter.  Try to make it as thorough as the mind map.  This is the map where you will look at activities to improve and/or ignore. We know it's not possible to fix everything now, but with this list you will be able to quickly take issues off the map when they are resolved as well as (and this important to do) add items when they appear.  Below is an example of a problem map I facilitated with a Quality Assurance (QA) group in a software development department.  You will note there are no solutions or assignment of blame.  Simply a map of what the problems are.

Again this map will likely be a first for your company.  It's not often a company has a map of their largest issues/complaints.  With this map you are now prepared to take a step which can start to deliver measurable results.  It's best to have your team who created this map sit on this for a couple days.  Have them think over what they have come up with.  Then get the group back together to discuss the problems and narrow down where to start.
Take the complete map and start talking about what are the biggest issues.  It's likely that the room will already have a consensus on the largest issues.  When there is a consensus on what the largest problem is.  Use what is known as the "5 Whys".  The 5 whys is a proven method to determine how to get to the root cause of a problem.  Rather then explain it myself I will borrow from a great book titled "Lean IT" by Steve Bell.

"The Five Whys is the simple method of asking, “Why?” repeatedly until the root cause of a problem is uncovered. Normally the root cause is reached by the time we ask the fifth why. When the team believes it has identified a root cause, it works backward using “Therefore…” to test its logic and ensure it hasn’t missed a step in the sequence. For example, if the team investigating IT service request delays would have used the Five Whys, it might have gone as follows: Had the team performed root cause analysis, it may have discovered that there was a need for improving underlying business processes and developing standard work before considering technology-based solutions (a common theme throughout this book)."

Bell, Steven C. (2012-01-04). Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation (Kindle Locations 4004-4010). Taylor & Francis.

Once you have found what you consider to be the largest problem in the mind map and the problem if fully agreed we will now take that issue and make it our first actionable item which we will focus on for our enterprise transformation.  That will be the topic of my next blog post - Value Stream Mapping.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  This topic is very broad and I am the first to admit there are many ways to achieve what I've explained .








Monday, June 2, 2014

Starting Enterprise Change Step 1- Current State Mind Mapping


In my previous blog post Waste Is Everywhere and It Starts With You  I discussed that constructing enterprise transformations are difficult for a variety of reason (yes and it usually starts with you).  By definition an enterprise transformation is any series of organizational steps leading to improvements which create greater value to your customer and then your organization or resource.  This post will assist you in getting acquainted with starting a transformation initiative and some common techniques you can use to navigate the politics which will block your success.   To begin with a metamorphosis of the enterprise you need to fully understand the current state of your enterprise.  Current state
is plainly an agreed on visual representation for how the organization looks today.  It does not define solutions or place blame.  It simply is the baseline you will use to define and measure your organization transformation.  

The most common contention which commonly arises in enterprise transformation is what I call climbing the mountain.  Intellectual Capital or IC (your employees) in most organizations have no problems identifying and defining all the inefficiencies within their organization.  Complications ensue though when they asked how to resolve those issues or how they came to be. Additionally much time is wasted arguing the merits of the issues when you're simply trying to identify your current state.  It's even more difficult when the IC are part of the problems which they are trying to identify.  No one likes to feel they are a liability to the organization and most IC rarely objectively realize they are.  Add on the bureaucracy of pet projects or emotional commitments and it's really no surprise the failure rate of these initiatives are so high (some estimates as high as 90% according to Bill Waddell

Second, when issues are identified, how do you objectively decide what to work on without adding the complexity of everyones flavor of the day?  The flavor of the day consists of what's current in your mind as your biggest issue (which is often the most recent) facing the organization.  This is rarely the largest non-value added component which needs the highest priority but is simply the one that pops in to your mind as the most recent (and likely the most important if we are being subjective).   A simple example of this is defined in The Goal written by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a business consultant whose Theory of Constraints (TOC) explains that anything not a bottleneck should not get initial focus as it will not improve your process capacity.  This story though shows how easily the wrong item can be worked on and why it's so hard to identify the bottleneck or larget problem.  


While much of what I'm introducing was created in Lean cultures I don't propose calling yourself Lean when you successfully implement these steps (you still have more learning to actually "Be Lean"). Introducing Lean management and information systems requires discipline, time and reflection. Lean principles are even more difficult to embrace, yet they eventually come to influence behavior throughout the enterprise. Values and principles must have time to become internalized within the unique culture of each organization and this is simply a first step. Nonetheless, it is difficult to begin with values and principles alone, because they are intangible. This is where the principles of mind mapping will help (By far the best literature on Lean in IT is Lean IT by Steve Bell and Mike Orzen.  This is the most comprehensive book you will find if you're trying to start your lean journey in IT).  

Great, you want to begin your lean journey but where do you start?  I've told you all the problems you will face but haven't yet told you how to avoid them.  Where does one begin and who should be involved?  This blog post can not tackle that large of a concept but I suggest several books to read to get acquainted with some best practices (A great place to start is Making Strategy Work by Lawrence G. Hrebiniak).  At a very high level though your organization must tackle several components in order to launch.  

1. First any change initiatives need to have top down support.  This doesn't necessarily mean that upper management needs to manage the change but at a minimum they must fully support the change initiatives and be willing to change themselves.  Additionally with the top down support you must fully tap your intellectual capital but I'll get to that later. 

2. Create a blank slate. Do not come in to the initiative with a pre-conceived notion of what or how to change.  Spend time if you need to getting people on board who can be objective and provide honest input.   While being objective can be difficult, you will already have a room full of pre-conceived solutions if you do not take this step seriously.  After all if you already have the solution to the problem why haven't you succeeded thus far in eliminating it?  This is difficult additionally because most change initiatives within an organization are initially created because they want to solve a specific problem.  In the end the original problem will be solved but TOC and mind mapping will eventually identify your root cause. 

If you're new to this concept or your organization is very basic on conceptualization then start small.  Perhaps do it inside your span of control or as a personal improvement plan for your commission   It's very important that you involve all the intellectual knowledge available on the matter.  If you fear this can't be done initially then narrow your first step to where you can have full access to that knowledge base.  The largest disservice organizations can make is to not involve the knowledge workers and only involve management.  Management certainly can participate but in today's world most intellectual knowledge  is the tacit knowledge of your IC (regardless of industry I find this to be true.  Peter Drucker initially saw this as early as the 1950's and it has only continued to be proven true).  


Getting the caveats out of the way allows us to finally talk about what is the first step.  This stride can often be the most difficult because there are so many potential ways to begin (and fail).  There are countless articles and books which describe how to create successful organization change and most are exceptionally good from certain frames.  I find them a bit too prescriptive and often complicate something which should attempt to be simplified.  Being too despotic out of the gate narrows the possibility of success when your case should need to deviate from their framework.  My personal experience has proven that beginning with a mind map is a solid common method to define what previously only exists in your mind.  The information you will discover in a mind map has likely never been mapped for your organization and your ability to learn from the experience is truly priceless.  



A mind map as defined by Wikipedia is "diagram used to visually outline information. A mind map is often created around a single word or text, placed in the center, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added. Major categories radiate from a central node, and lesser categories are sub-branches of larger branches. Categories can represent wordsideas, tasks, or other items related to a central key word or idea."   Admittedly  the main goal of a mind map is for the facilitation of knowledge transfer from everyone in the session around one concept.  Granted it's not that easy, but the concept can range from the organization all the way down to a specific job role.  This simplified approach is successful primarily because simplifies what is  very difficult for people to state in a traditional strategic approach (Brain Storming, etc). 

Mind mapping takes what are often considered complex relationships between organizational components and allows them to be visually simplified.  This method does a great job in minimizing what Chip Health and Dan Heath defined in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die as the curse of knowledge.  The curse of knowledge occurs when we assume others around us have the some comprehension of concepts which we often consider second nature or back of our hand.  Alas we have a hard time often explaining our jobs, product specs or protocols to those who are not inside the organization day in and out.  For example,  if you ever have the opportunity to listen to air traffic controllers working, you will understand what I'm talking about.  Their instructions to pilots are firm and concise but if you're not educated in to their protocol you would not have any idea what they are talking about. 

Mind maps do a great job at minimizing the curse of knowledge by allowing a simplistic framework to state what  is often "obvious" .  Mapping can be done with software (I use Inspiration 9) or simply a white board or powerpoint.  The map starts with a center point concept or locus.  
This concept is the highest level of which your initiative focuses.  There can not be a higher level defined in the map.  If you were to start this map with your C level executives then you would have the name in the company in the center.  


For example, say you're mapping for IT Project Management role in an IT department.  You would place Project Management as the center section while each additional trunk off the main idea would be the major components of the Project Management role.  This information is identified and facilitated on the map by the members present in the mind mapping session who are calling out the responsibilities of each trunk.  The below example is a mind map created for an IT shop I was consulting several years back.  The participants were allowed to take the conversation as deep as they wanted without the worry of political fallout or conflict.  Recommendation - I often do not invite managers to the meetings as they will tend to take control of the conversation.  Managers tend to not want to discuss what  structure really is but what they think it is.  This does not facilitate an honest open session and can prohibit real improvement from occurring.  If you feel management needs to be involved I would encourage setting up a mind mapping session with only managers who are peers and allow them to speak freely.  Additionally I do not recommend sharing the results between groups.   The best test on the delta between the two groups is to have them create their maps organically and independently of each other. 
IT Department mind mapping of the Project Manager position

The facilitator of this session can be anyone but it's generally a good idea to use someone outside the group who doesn't have the curse of knowledge regarding the inner workings of the team.  Additionally it's a good idea to make sure your facilitator is just that, a facilitator and not driving the concepts.  Each trunk is a large concept that generally can't not be compiled to anything larger (agileists can recognize this as an epoch).  When creating your mind map I encourage you to go where the discussion goes.  This may result in jumping around to different trunks but it's unliekely people will be able to identify all components of one trunk at one time.  Furthermore you will start to find that people want to quickly point out the problems when discussing items.  Encourage this but do not dwell on it.  Quickly put it in the branch and move on.  Otherwise these sessions will get bogged down in negativity.  The image above  shows a trunk of Project Management and their role in facilitating as part of their job responsibility. Notice that concepts have been identified and some have the problem branch associated. This is as far as it goes, the purpose of this initial assessment is to understand current state, not to prescribe solutions. 

This is step one for your transformation.  If you want a more detailed example or have questions please feel free to contact me.  I believe the power of this tool is so valuable that it should not be reserved for highly paid consultants.  You should be using it daily to improve your job, department, company and life.  In the next post I will show you how to identify problems or areas for improvement and how to put structure around that second step. 











Popular Posts