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Making IT Lean by Rebecca Duray, Howard Williams

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79
Chapter 5
Lean Problem-Solving:
Identifying and
Understanding Problems
Beginning with this chapter, we will look closely at the Lean Problem-
Solving script as a component of the Lean Improvement Model. Our initial
focus will be on identifying and understanding problems using the concepts
associated with A3 Thinking. We also will turn our attention more directly
at the domain of interest for application of Lean practices, specically, IT
Operations. Using examples and scenarios derived from IT operational
work, we will show how Lean tools help in identifying and understanding
problems.
The central role that waste elimination plays in Lean Thinking provides
an excellent starting point for identifying problems. This is not to suggest
that waste is the only type of problem we might encounter, or that problem-
solving is the only basis for identifying improvements, but waste is signifi-
cant and pervasive enough to justify focusing our attention on it. Simply
stated, waste is everywhere, and all waste is a problem.
Identifying Waste
In our discussion in Chapter 4 of waste in IT Operations we did not give
enough credit to efforts IT practitioners make in their day-to-day work to
identify and eliminate it, and we should say something about that here.
80 ◾  Making IT Lean: Applying Lean Practices to the Work of IT
We do, in fact, confront pain points indicative of waste frequently enough,
and sometimes have no choice but to do something about them. We also
make concerted efforts to address problems as we confront them, and this
can occupy much of our time (sometimes, unfortunately, in a crisis mode).
Sometimes we address these problems in a thorough and conscientious way,
and sometimes, due to other priorities, we need to defer on problem-solving
until another day. Sometimes known problems get deprioritized and become
all but forgotten until the pain we experience from them comes back to
haunt us. Typically, despite our best intentions, we approach problem-solv-
ing in a rather unsystematic way, addressing what hurts us most and tolerat-
ing other problems as part of our business as usual.
One of the benefits of Lean is that it approaches the identification and
elimination of waste in a systematic and disciplined way. The waste we
identify easily is addressed, but other sources of waste that are perhaps
less easy to identify also are rooted out and eliminated. Lean approaches
waste elimination as more of a cultural orientation than a one-off exercise.
In the Lean orientation, there is no end to benefits that can be gained from
addressing problems that underlie waste.
Below we will address three different scenarios where waste is identied.
These three scenarios represent variations on the same theme, but they are com-
mon enough in real life to warrant our attention. The three scenarios include:
Stumbling on waste from pain points
Identifying waste in clearly identified workflows
Clarifying complex workflows as a prerequisite to identifying waste
In addition, we will discuss a Lean practice whereby problems are pur-
posefully identied by surfacing and exposing them when they might other-
wise remain hidden.
In the course of each scenario, we will introduce Lean tools that may
apply. It is important to say, however, that we are not mapping tools to
scenarios in a prescriptive way. We are beginning with simple tools (ones
that you may not even associate with Lean), primarily as an indication of
how simple it is to incorporate them into a Lean practice. At the same time,
the reader will hopefully appreciate that the tools are intended to be used
in practice in a thoughtful and deliberate way, and any of the tools might
reasonably be used for any of the scenarios we are exploring.

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