It’s almost 30 years since the book, The Machine that Changed the World, described how the Lean approach transformed Toyota’s approach to manufacturing.
Today, Lean approaches to IT and IT service management have become extremely influential.
In the past couple of years, there’s been a major shift in software development with at least 30-40% of development run in an Agile way. This is reaching a tipping point where it becomes the majority approach – especially as software development blurs into operations with the emergence of the DevOps movement.
As the use of Agile methods have exploded, people have realized that, as awesome as they are at the team level, they’re not enough when thinking about IT operations, management and the broader organizational flow. Lean thinking has helped fill the gap and it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about Lean-Agile as a unified approach.
Turning to a “safe recipe” – ITIL® 4
While early adopters of Lean-Agile approaches were happy to blaze new trails, leaders of late-majority organizations are looking for proven, practical steps they can take to change and looking to modern frameworks is a good starting point. One example, ITIL 4, is poised to bring these modern management approaches to the broader infrastructure, operations, and services organizations of large enterprises.
In the ITIL 4 service design management practice, Lean user experience is termed “a mindset, a culture and a process that embraces Lean-Agile methods” and which poses questions including “Who are the customers? What will the product/service be used for? When is it used? What will be the most important functionality? What are the biggest risks?”
This reflects the three things that really matter in Lean, which are:
- Everything is centred on the customer perspective, otherwise it’s waste.
- The people closest to the problem are the best to solve it (i.e. frontline employees in close cooperation with customers) therefore needing delegation of authority to make changes and put things right.
- Continuous improvement – changing processes and products relentlessly in a continuous, flowing series of short cycles of plan, do, check, adjust.
Changing the culture
Organizational culture changes as a result of all the things employees do. Implementation of new organizational structures, practices, and measuring systems results in new patterns of behaviour. But talking about the Lean-Agile transformation is helpful so people understand where things are heading.
In my experience, when most employees hear about Agile, Lean, and respect for people they immediately like it. An approach that offers autonomy, mastery and purpose is pretty attractive.
It usually takes a bit more explaining for senior executives but the promise of faster delivery, more innovation, and more engaged employees all tied to measurable business outcomes is quite attractive.
However, the change is often more difficult for middle management, whose job it is to keep things running according to plans and goals that executives set out in the past. And, at least in its early days, many in the Agile movement were ambivalent at best about management. Today, most smart Agilists recognize that management does still play a key role, just in a different way; i.e. more time spent on training, coaching, mentoring, fostering healthy team dynamics and ensuring that continuous improvement is truly happening.
Making the change
Market-leading digital native companies are using these ways of working as native behaviour – and they’re winning! Other organizations are recognizing “we’ve got to go digital and adopt similar methods, or we’re dead!”
Given the glamour of the digital native companies, and the fact that universities are now teaching their students to work in a Lean-Agile way as the default approach, pretty soon unless you’re running your company with these modern methods you won’t be able to hire and retain the best people.
So, the change is critical, but how? For most organizations, these are big changes that need external training, guidance, and coaching. Leaders should be willing to invest in this. It will pay for itself through productivity gains, improvements in customer experience, speed to market, and hiring/retention. And the risk of botched transformation is huge. Few organizations can simply do it themselves.
These changes are fundamental to how organizations work, so people at the top need to learn as much as they can about the new approaches and genuinely become part of them. They can’t simply OK the changes and provide the funding. They need to model the change as Lean-Agile manager teachers.
And, as highlighted in the ITIL 4 Foundation publication, ITSM practices – and the professionals who deploy them – should now embrace Lean and Agile ways of working as part of servicing the demands of customer experience and digital transformation.