Creating a leaner IT

The current economic climate should provide us with an opportunity to make real improvements in how we run IT in our departments and organisations.

To do this, we need to look at the topic of creating a leaner IT. There has and continues to be plenty of research on lean thinking, but the term lean is likely to have multiple definitions. Odds are, someone outside of IT will come knocking on your door asking when you’re going to “get lean.”  Here’s how to answer them.

First, tell them what lean is not.

Lean is not just cost cutting.

Blind cost cutting, led by the business or by IT, but too often in isolation from one another, only creates more waste. We know the drill.  The <insert your industry here> IT shop cuts infrastructure and operations staff before fixing the systems management processes inherited from generations past. Trust me, I have seen this first hand on many occasions in all types of industries and small to large organisations. The outcome will always be the same: Fewer staff + still broken processes = costs remaining flat (at best) and lower system reliability.  Not leaner, just more broken.

Lean is not just consolidation.

First of all, consolidation efforts are hard and carry their own risks. Second, consolidation initiatives often concentrate only on assets and organisations, neglecting root cause problems: Bloated and/or duplicate processes.

Lean is not always a methodology. Process improvement methods like Lean Six Sigma and the Agile family of software development methods have been around for a long time. Don’t confuse a lean methodology based on multiple gradations of belts with a simple way of thinking.

Cost cutting, consolidation, and rich methodologies can all be part of the antidote for bloated IT. But simplify your definition of lean into one of eliminating waste. And consider it more a mindset and culture than a guide.


Some advice in the area of lean thinking and eliminating waste are:

1. Planning

One of the biggest areas of waste in IT is over-planning or planning horizons that are too long for this economic climate.  Set an aggressive timeline for when you’ll complete any plan. Then, cut it in half.

2. Assessments

Do the same thing to any assessment work, whether it’s of processes, assets, standards, etc.  If you’re spending more than two calendar months assessing a current state, stop, or get rid of the consultant.

3. Consolidation

For addressing organisation or process consolidation as part of a lean movement, start by identifying those activities that absolutely must be local or business unit-specific. From there, assume everything else is fair game for standardisation and a shared approach.

4. Design IT Processes

Design IT processes – especially demand management processes – so that they kill off bad ideas really fast. Nothing saps morale or productivity more than a bad idea that just lingers.

5. Quality

Don’t allow lean thinking to be traded off against quality. True lean methods are designed to improve quality and learning continuously. Make sure this is part of your internal positioning.

6. Long Term Program

Whether you tackle lean through cost-cutting, consolidation, and/or system optimisation, treat it as more than just an ad hoc project. Treat lean thinking as an ongoing program or initiative, likely assigned to a PMO or other governance structure for stewardship.


Author: Mawdud Choudhury, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Universal System Technologies (UST), Brunei Darussalam.


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