Apply Lean and Six Sigma to a job that involves diverse tasks, relationships and creative problem solving (like what most IT staff do) and you may find you’ve created a very efficient organization that fails to accomplish its purpose. Lean and Six Sigma can make certain operational functions within an IT organization more efficient. But these two methods are certainly not appropriate centerpieces of an organizational transformation program.
Yeah, right. As we put it back then,
I guess a knuckle-dragging manufacturing grunt like myself with no need for creativity should just accept those statements. But that would be doing a disservice to all the creative types that have taken their organizations to the next level using lean and six sigma methods.
But maybe CIO has seen the light, or at least the need for balance. Today they ran an article titled Learning to Love Lean IT, which specifically talks about the benefits lean manufacturing methods can create for IT operations. The article chronicles the lean efforts of Pat Quinn, newly appointed VP of IT at Acuity Brands Lighting, run by a CEO that insists on lean in all operations.
Quinn was charged with providing systems to enable the manufacturing changes. But as he learned more about lean tools and techniques for cutting waste and enabling continuous improvement, he saw that IT could benefit from them as well. “Eliminating waste doesn’t just apply to scrap metal. It can mean eliminating the waste of intellectual property or human resources or anything else," he says.
Of course it’s never quite that easy, especially when many IT types probably subscribe to CIO and read articles by Dean Meyer (no relation).
The IT team was skeptical. "They could see how lean was valuable for everybody else, for manufacturing or finance or anyone they viewed as transactional," says Quinn. "But IT saw itself as creative and worried that lean would suppress that creativity." Quinn understood. "We’re not creating widgets," he told his employees. "But when you create, for example, a software product, there’s still tremendous waste. And creating a process framework doesn’t have to depress creativity."
Yep, I wonder who put that "lean is incompatible with creativity" bug in their heads… As usual the results speak for themselves.
Results have ranged from finally weaning the company off IBM mainframes in use for 20 years to transitioning corporate headquarters (and 175 call center agents and 25 apps) to VoIP in less than two months. The transition has required bigchanges in thinking. One lean event revealed that application development could be greatly improved with pair programming—multiple programmers working together on code. "I thought, there’s no way that’s going to work," says Quinn, a former programmer himself. "But I was completely wrong."
Hats off to CIO magazine for seeing the error of their earlier ways. Lean methods can be applied to any part of any organization, and as we just learned, even to IT.