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Making IT Lean by Rebecca Duray, Howard Williams

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27
Chapter 3
The OM Perspective
Now, we want to look at IT work from the perspective of Operations
Management (OM). As a field of academic study, OM is concerned with the
design, operation, and improvement of systems that produce and deliver
products and services.
1
The OM definition of the term system quickly sets
us apart from the conventional IT perspective because, unlike in IT, where
system typically refers to automation or a technical solution, in OM, a system
includes People, Process, and Technology, i.e., it includes everything that
surrounds the use of automation.
OM has its origins in manufacturing but has been extended into many
areas, including Administration and Services, both of which have relevance
to the work of IT. In fact, Service Management is a topic of study within the
larger OM domain, and its relationship to IT Service Management is not just
semantic. Other topics of interest within OM include process design and
development, process improvement, and quality management. Specific meth-
odologies for process and quality management are directly relevant to the
OM field of inquiry, including Lean. There has been a substantial amount of
research in development of OM models that can help explain how process-
based systems work for either manufacturing or services. We are including
this view of process-based work because it represents the conceptual foun-
dation for Lean and also provides the language that we will use throughout
the book.
That introduction may sound dry and academic, but let us personalize
this a bit. One of the authors, Howard, thought he knew something about IT
process management from his work over many years in IT. However, then
he took a course in Operations Management from the other author, Rebecca,
28 ◾  Making IT Lean: Applying Lean Practices to the Work of IT
who has a background in manufacturing consulting. The first revelation was
that OM practitioners had very deep and extensive experience in complex
process environments (such as making cars). The second revelation was
that this process knowledge could be applied to the work of IT, although
the language and practices of OM were not commonly employed, or even
particularly evident. His eyes opened up to a whole new world, which later
set the stage for understanding the specic contributions of Lean as an OM
practice to the work of IT.
For many readers who may have had prior exposure to OM, the con-
cepts and notions in this chapter may seem straightforward and obvious, in
which case it will represent a quick review to set the stage for later chapters.
For other readers who may not have had this exposure, our hope is that
you will be able to absorb some language and tools that will not only add
insight into looking at IT work in its own right, but also provide context for
a better understanding of the role of Lean.
Process Types
Processes are the fundamental unit of work in Operations Management.
A process is any activity that transforms an input into an output. Using a
variety of established textbook denitions of process,
2
five process types are
seen in manufacturing operations, some of which can be applied in service
operations (and, as we discussed in the previous chapter, IT is a service
operation). The five process types include:
Project
Job Shop
Batch
Line
Continuous Flow
These process types represent a spectrum of activities based on the vari-
ety and volume of the output of the process. Volume refers to the number of
items being produced, while variety signifies the number of different types
of items, each type requiring different ways of processing. For example, let’s
say you produce 10,000 units of something per month (e.g., bicycles parts,
donuts, or computer components). If you produce 1000 different items (each
item requiring different process handling) in batches of 10, you have high

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