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Steve Bell

Steve Bell: Leading your team in the practice of collaboration and experimentation

By Steve Bell, - Last updated: Saturday, September 7, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Not only can you contribute, but you and your teams should play a significant role. Over the past several years I’ve seen an interesting trend emerge. It wasn’t all that long ago when the enterprise avoided involving IT in a Lean transformation. Often, Lean practitioners viewed IT as an impediment to continuous improvement. And sometimes they were right – historically IT has often been unnecessarily complex, costly, risky, unreliable, and resistant to change.

Fast forward a few years. CIO’s, seeing the gains realized by their operations colleagues, began applying the principles of Lean (through such disciplines as Agile, Scrum, and ITIL) to IT practices. This often yielded localized improvements in speed and quality, but IT remained siloed, their efforts sub-optimized. Gains were made, but too often they were not the right gains to help the enterprise realize the larger, strategic goals.

Now, finally, I’m beginning to see some enterprises integrating IT capabilities and aligning improvement efforts with over-arching enterprise strategy within the Enterprise Lean Transformation. Some are applying Hoshin Kanri (strategy deployment) to make these connections explicit and measurable.

This brings us to the first question: How can I, the CIO of a large group, contribute to this effort?” For starters, do you need to convince your CEO or other senior leadership that you should be a significant voice in the Lean Transformation? Do they understand why this is important?

Consider the capabilities IT delivers:
1.    Quality information and effective information systems that enable business processes to serve customers
2.    Information gathering and analysis to manage process performance, and to develop a clearer vision of customer needs and wants
3.    Technology enabled features and functionality that add value to the products and services the enterprise delivers to its customers
4.    A medium for information exchange and communication between the enterprise, its customers, and the larger marketplace. [1]

It might be helpful to ask how your enterprise can engage in a sustaining Lean transformation without employing IT capabilities?

Does your CEO, and perhaps your board, still need convincing? Ask them to take a look at your competitors. How are they using technology to leapfrog and gain market share? And what about the start-ups you don’t yet know about who are chasing your customers? If you are not prepared to disrupt your own enterprise, be assured that someone else will. To make this more real and less abstract, let’s consider two examples, in different industry sectors.

Toyota (as usual) provides a good example of enterprise-wide collaboration and experimentation in the pursuit of self-disruption and continuous reinvention. Looking to create the next generation of automobiles, senior leaders set forth a goal: develop a vehicle that achieves 50 mpg without sacrificing space and comfort. That goal was communicated throughout the enterprise, and everyone, across all disciplines, pulled together to make it a reality.

Two years later (think about that– two years from conception to realization) the first Prius rolled off the line and it sparked a revolution that was not possible without deep information technology innovation within the product, as well as highly effective information technology systems to support globe-spanning, technology-enabled design and engineering collaboration. This effort pioneered the “Obeya” room that was both physical and virtually available to the global team. [2]

And what is the future of the automobile? To many, especially the younger generations, it has become an extension of their personal electronics. The automobile is perhaps the best, but not the only, example of how electronics are becoming integrated within even the most traditional manufactured products. [3]

Another example can be found at Nordstrom, a one hundred year-old US retailer with a reputation for excellent personalized customer service. This is not a company where you would expect IT to play a leading role in transformation. Yet they do. For example, Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab is combining many technology experiments (using Agile development practices inspired by the Lean startup) into the physical and virtual customer experience, enabling Nordstrom to improve on an already high standard of customer experience. [4]

Now let’s consider how you should participate. Reflect on my latest definition of Lean IT (as in all Lean practice, it continues to evolve and improve):

Lean IT is the practice of continuous and rapid learning through collaboration and experimentation among business stakeholders, technical specialists, suppliers and customers, to continuously improve and innovate the use of quality information, effective information systems, and technology-enabled products and services to add value for the end customer.  [5]

How do you go about leading your team in this practice of collaboration and experimentation to add value for customers? Here are some suggestions:

•    Engage all stakeholders thru value streams – for IT Service Managers that means clearly defined service catalogs that are meaningful to their customers; application and product development teams should stick together over time to create persistent domain knowledge and product ownership
•    Move beyond transactions (traditional ERP and operations system) and integrate collaborative systems with staff, suppliers and customers to enhance knowledge and engagement
•    Provide the foundation for measurement and analytics (note the popularity of ‘big data’) promoting informed problem solving and decision making (PDCA) throughout the enterprise.
•    Drive process excellence and innovation in partnership with your business associates and your customers – create a collaborative laboratory environment and let the experiments begin
•    If you are engaging in Lean within IT as an internal improvement focus, help your IT managers and their teams to better understand how their work, and their improvement and innovation targets relate to overall enterprise strategy goals, and prioritize those improvement initiatives that further overall enterprise strategy.
•    Consider starting Hoshin Kanri; ask “What are the vital few capabilities that IT needs to focus on first to optimize value for the enterprise and its customers?”, and focus your resources on those capabilities.

Now, for your second question: What’s in it for me? As you set out on your Lean journey, you will face many challenges as new ways of thinking bump up against entrenched practices (for example, agile vs. waterfall, and experimentation/PDCA thinking vs. the need for certainty manifested through traditional budgeting, governance and PMO practices and mindsets). You will have to change old ways of thinking about IT and earn trust with your colleagues. You will also have to change the way your leaders lead and your managers manage. This is the heart of the Lean transformation journey, and it begins by helping the senior IT leadership to really understand the principles of Lean leadership.

Recently the CIO of a Fortune 100 company, whom I coach, said to me, “For years, CIO’s have been asking for a place at the strategy table. Now suddenly we’re there, feeling like the dog that finally caught the car it’s been chasing. With the bumper in its teeth it asks ‘now what?’”
This is a very interesting question, opening up tremendous possibilities.

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[1] Run Grow Transform, Integrating Business and Lean IT, Steve Bell, Productivity Press, 2012, Appendix A – What is Lean IT? A Working Definition

[2] The Toyota Product Development System, James Morgan and Jeffrey Liker, Productivity Press, 2006, Chapter Seven

[3] www.npr.org/2013/09/06/219560328/millennials-force-car-execs-to-rethink-business-plans

[4] www.infoq.com/interviews/jeremy-lightsmtih-lean-start-up-design-thinking

[5] Run Grow Transform, Integrating Business and Lean IT, Steve Bell, Productivity Press, 2012, Appendix A – What is Lean IT? A Working Definition

 

 

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