Friday, June 19, 2009

Lean Concepts for IT Professionals

At ThoughtWorks conference, Richard Durnall and Kraig Parkinson gave a talk about Lean Software development. They start out by giving a brief history on Lean and how it led to the Toyota Production System (TPS). They then describe Lean in detail and cover the 4 levels of concern as

1. Philosophy - long term thinking or challenge. How are we going to accomplish these goals given the constraints: Long term vision(looking at 5, 10, 20 years), adaptive planning as we learn more and are faced with new challenges, process based company with human focus.

2. Process - steps to take to get there: Pull systems (wait for order before starting), eliminate waste, value streams, Jidoka automation (providing humans with tools to support what they do), Heijunka (even out the work to make a balanced system), visual controls (see where the work is), stop the line (at Toyota the line stops about 27,000 times a day), build in quality.

Eliminate waste (overproduction, waiting, unnecessary transportation, over processing, excess inventory, unnecessary movement of our people, defects, unused employee creativity)

3. People and partners - Respect and work together towards the ultimate goal. Supplier and partner relations (share resources to make suppliers and partners better since they share the same ecosystem), encourage the right behaviors (point everyone in the same org in the same direction), training and personal growth.

4. Problem solving - in depth look at the real issues. Genchi Genbusu (go, see and do for yourself, get involved), 5 why’s (root cause analysis tool – ask why 5 times and at the 5th time you know the root cause), 5s (stabilize and standardize what we do as a platform for continuous improvements going forward), ishikawa (fishbone diagram for root cause analysis tool), A3 reports (get all information you can on one side of A3 paper – annual financial statement – intent that less is more), PDCA (plan, do check, act cycle).

Wrapping all this together is a sense of continuous improvement (Kaizen).

Next, they look at Lean in IT:

1. IT has a problem - mediocrity: over budget, over schedule, not delivering useful features, projects failing.

2. IT is a business process and we can use Lean techniques to improve them like value stream map to measure cycle time efficiency. The process involves walking through the process and tracking 3 metrics: value added time (amount of time to do something of value that the customer will appreciate), elapsed time (from start to finish including waiting time), and cumulative elapsed time (over all time from request until delivery). This shows IT waste like extra features, waiting, unnecessary transportation, gold plating, partially completed work, unnecessary movement, defects, and unused employee creativity. One can apply Lean practices like pull practice, eliminate waste, and adaptive planning to improve the cycle. We do not need to fix everything. We need to work on our immediate constraint and once that is fixed we can move on to the next one.

3. Further engage business and deliver better results: IT works across business units and can see the process from end to end. Focus on customer. Realign key management metrics to be more of a throughput focused vs. status focused - what is the profitability, how smooth is the process.

4. Look at other lean organizations and learn from them. Start with the customer, focus on quality not cost (and cost will drop as quality improves), find the change agents and empower them, don’t get trapped in the tool age (concentrate on philosophy, beliefs and values), and remember that anyone can introduce change.

This presentation is available on InfoQ at