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Making IT Lean by Rebecca Duray, Howard Williams

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1
Chapter 1
Introduction
This book is based on the simple, but powerful, idea that a set of process
and quality improvement practices that have historically been associated
with advanced manufacturing operations can be usefully applied to the
operational work of IT. It is, in short, about the application of Lean practices
to the work of IT.
We will introduce these topics, Lean and IT, in a somewhat deliberate
manner, but it’s possible to quickly identify the critical intersect between
them by way of the following example.
Consider an IT project that’s behind schedule. What else is new, you
might say! There is a lot of pressure on the team to meet the current
deadline, and everyone is working late to do so. Everyone is tired. There
arent enough resources anyway, and everyone knows this, but we are
all grateful for our jobs, so we do the best we can without complaint
(well, some grumbling, maybe). A critical application update needs to be
installed, so this represents operational work that the project depends on.
In other words, there is a team (call it the Apps Support team) that does
this sort of work all of the time, and now they are going to do it as part
of the project’s critical path of tasks. Because of the demand on this team
for many other assignments, including other projects and ongoing opera-
tions support, we have identified the best window in which this work
should happen, and we have scheduled it through Change Management.
The update should take four hours, and the update window starts at 10
p.m. Work commences, when suddenly something happens—we don’t
know what—but there is an outage in the production environment. As it
turns out, it takes a full 24 hours to resolve it, and this not only puts the
2 ◾  Making IT Lean: Applying Lean Practices to the Work of IT
project behind schedule, but, during that time, we had business users who
couldn’t access critical business applications. Another consequence is that
all of the other work that the Apps Support team had in its queue is now
delayed as well.
We could carry the example further, but this is probably sufficient to
make the point. Another day in the life of IT perhaps, but there is a decid-
edly operational interpretation of events that makes this completely similar
to problems we might confront on a production line in a factory. We have
products” in the form of projects and tasks being pushed down the line. We
have volume and schedule demands being placed on resources. Most impor-
tantly, for our purposes here, we have delays in getting products completed,
we have backlogs and bottlenecks at points along the production line, and,
finally, we have defects in the product itself.
Delays, bottlenecks, backlogs, and defects. This is a not uncommon pro-
file for work in IT, and, even if the results are not always catastrophic, they
are often critical enough in our day-to-day life to occupy signicant amounts
of time in their prevention or remediation. These symptoms of underlying
problems (for that is what they really are) also are precisely in the ballpark
of Lean improvement and Lean solutions.
Lean
So what is Lean? For right now, let’s just say its an approach to solving
problems that emphasizes quality and efficiency in operations, especially for
the processes that underlie these operations. In other words, all the world of
operational process, regardless of domain, serves as the stage for Lean appli-
cation. That means IT, too.
That is not much of a denition, but we think that the question is almost
like asking “What is yoga?” We can define it upfront, but it’s probably bet-
ter to just try it out. Here our philosophy is that we can address the ques-
tion “What is Lean?” from multiple perspectives (which we will throughout
this book), but it also makes sense for the reader to get real experience with
Lean along the way, if for no other reason than that doing reinforces learn-
ing, and learning Lean is what this book is about. To this end, we will be
using simple examples of various Lean tools throughout this book, in the
hope that this will help the learning process.
Ironically, even though Lean has its origins in manufacturing, we won’t
have a lot to say about this area of application. One of the main reasons is

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