The Lean IT Transformation -- Is There a Roadmap?

During the past few years, many books have been published addressing the advantages of deploying Lean continuous improvement in IT operations. In addition, there are many books on DevOps, Agile software development, Lean project management, Lean startup, continuous deployment, and IT Service Management. In fact, in 2010 Productivity Press published Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation (authored by Steven Bell and Mike Orzen), which has been called the most comprehensive and definitive resource on Lean IT.

Recently, Mike released a new book with coauthor, Tom Paider titled The Lean IT Field Guide: A Roadmap for Your Transformation, and I had the chance to sit down with the authors and ask them why they wrote this book and why it is different from the myriad of books recently released on Lean IT and related topics. Here are the highlights from that conversation:

What inspired you to write this book?

The first book, Lean IT, was well received by the Lean and IT community, but many of the people we spoke with consistently said the same thing: “Great book, but how do we do it?” The first book thoroughly explores the “what” of Lean IT by providing definitions, examples, models, and case studies. We have always been uneasy with the idea of prescribing the “how” of Lean IT because I learned it through many years of trial and discovery. Our coaches and sensei always emphasized the need to experience one’s own discoveries and made it rather painful by not providing a roadmap. They used open-ended questions to develop our thinking, but it was up to us to figure to the direction we were going to take. Similar to the approach used in the first book, these teachers explained the goal and targets and helped us to envision a future-state, but they did not tell us how to get there. They seemed to intentionally avoid providing us with a roadmap, so we would discover our own way. We had to find our path forward through an endless series of experiments, reflection, and more experiments until the route ahead began to come into focus.

Is it possible to provide a roadmap to Lean transformation without being prescriptive and creating a implementation?

That is the very question we struggled with before committing to write this book! On the one hand, we had received many requests to share the “how to” mechanics of Lean IT transformation. In the final analysis, we realized we could share the key elements of building a Lean management system that effectively drives transformation without violating the necessary learning and discovery that is required to develop and engage people to become Lean practitioners. In a Lean transformation, particularly in IT, the actual steps and adjustments we will need to take will become apparent as we progress -- they cannot be known at the outset. We were very careful to stress the need for personal experimentation -- trial and discovery, using PDCA and refection -– to position the reader to successfully launch and deliver on a Lean transformation without approaching it like an implementation. An implementation presupposes that we know all the steps needed to reach the goal.

A Lean transformation can take years of hard work, in your opinion what is the hardest step in the journey?

In our experience, by far the hardest step is the first one – actually beginning your first set of routine team-based lean activities. In the book, we call the the first step "day zero" and provide details of the elements and preparations required of leaders, managers, and associates to success launch the transformation effort. During the years, we have found that sequence is just as important as content. What we mean by that is: you can do all the right things, but if they are done out of sequence, the impact and lasting effects just don’t take place. The sequences we share are based on years of trial, error, discovery, and success!

Are any readers currently involved in a Lean initiative focusing on aligning the IT function? If so, what were your biggest obstacles?