Accelerating IT with LEAN: Getting the Most From What You Already Own

Our modern society is pretty darn amazing.

It’s not perfect, of course. Improvements to gadgets, gizmos, and just plain ol’ tribal knowledge will forever be just around the next corner. For me, that unending pursuit of perfection is what leaves me so enamored by the state of our world. We’re so use to technological and societal advances being announced sometimes daily, we are completely accustomed to finding that proverbial better way to do things.

Want to know something amazing? We are all individually capable of this same iterative improvement in our personal and professional lives. It is that childlike curiosity and focus on improving and learning that propels most of us forward in life in our early twenties and thirties. We can even build companies with cultures of continuous improvement and learning!

Modern Society
The dark underbelly to this fact is that it’s extremely easy to fall into the trap of doing things the way we’ve always done them. To sit back and enjoy the status quo. To “let the kids figure it out.” At some point, complacency paralyzes our pursuit of better, and we slide onto the “safety” of the dreaded plateau. We stop testing the boundaries of ourselves and our work.

Instead of pursuing perfection, we meander with mediocrity.

Corporate IT is in the midst of a meandering moment, even as you read this. We have legacy skillsets that don’t completely translate to this brave new world. We have the way we’ve always done things. And then we are presented with internal business units that want to go outside of IT to procure cloud services.

Often times the responses to questions like these are “There’s no way we can make these business units happy with the stuff we have now, we just need to buy product X, because it will help us be better and automate things and everyone will be happy.” Followed by an amazing demonstration by the vendor of product X, followed by the exorbitant price tag of product X, followed by trying to talk management into including product X into next year’s budget. I’m sure these vendors flooding your inboxes have amazing wares…but let me take a moment to suggest an alternative philosophy.

I believe that what corporate IT needs right now is a return to the pursuit of perfection. Not perfection as a destination, but perfection as something to build towards, iteratively. This pursuit also acknowledges that sometimes the way to improve our work isn’t to install product X, but to make sure we have something like a closed loop documentation process…or a set of Standard Operating Procedures, or a waste-free service delivery process. This pursuit would have us refining our processes and documentation as the need arises, in order to continually improve our internal and external customer’s collective IT experience.

If only there was a roadmap to follow for continuous, waste-free improvement. Well you’re in luck, friend, I just happen to have produ…just kidding. There actually is a standard framework for developing efficient, effective, waste-free processes, and that framework is called LEAN. LEAN originated from the Toyota Production System, and has been adapted to virtually every industry, including manufacturing, healthcare, and IT. The application of LEAN in IT is extremely apropos in today’s cloud climate, because Agile development is closely linked to LEAN philosophies. It only makes sense that IT applies LEAN thinking to every nook-and-cranny of what we do.

But here’s the rub: LEAN is hard. Not because it’s difficult to understand, or impossible to implement. LEAN is hard because it isn’t especially prescriptive to every possible situation on the planet to which it could apply. It originated out of manufacturing, which means it’s concepts are intimately tied to the physical world, and the flow of work through a factory.

The major leaps forward in web applications that we’ve seen in the last 10 years have been because enterprising software developers applied LEAN concepts to the software development process. This proved that LEAN could be adapted to knowledge work. Unfortunately, LEAN’s adaptability lends to its complexity. The best way to navigate this complexity and learn LEAN principles (and by extension, the means to propel your IT organization into the future) is to get your hands dirty with it.

On June 15, 2017, Bedroc partnered with Cisco and Rise Against Hunger, to orchestrate version 1.0 of what we have dubbed “LEAN Against Hunger”. Thirty-six Bedroc and Cisco colleagues joined forces to bag 10,000 meals to be distributed as hunger relief all over the world. We bagged all of this food in just under 2 hours. Want to know how we did all of this so quickly?

Rise Against Hunger results in Madagascar

We applied LEAN!

Interspersed between food bagging rounds, we conducted training on LEAN principles. Following the LEAN training modules, each round was magnitudes better than the previous round. We almost had to end the event early because of the rate progress was made. The training also connected back to current trends and challenges we face in IT today, and how LEAN thinking could benefit the industry.

Bedroc team at LEAN Against Hunger Event

I gained quite a bit of personal satisfaction in witnessing the LEAN lightbulb moment in multiple individuals, and would really enjoy sharing this others. If you’re reading this, and feel like LEAN training in this manner would benefit your IT organization, please reach out to us. We’d love to coordinate between you and Rise Against Hunger to conduct a LEAN Against Hunger event.