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The Key Lean IT Principles You Need To Know
Lean originates from the Toyota Production System (TPS), a system of delivering high quality products that meet customers’ requirements. The three basic elements of TPS are just-in-time production, focus on quality and continual improvement. The essence of Lean is delivering value to customers and continuously improving the ability to do this, by removing waste from the entire system that produces the value. This is a simple statement but one with far-reaching consequences. The landmark publication on the philosophy of Lean, Lean Thinking (Womack and Jones, 1996), details the key Lean IT Principles are:
Lean IT Principle I – Value
Value is defined by the customer (“voice of the customer”) and represents the requirements that a customer has regarding the product or service delivered. The key aspect of the value of a product or service is its ability to help the user of the product or service to deliver value to his or her customers. We need to focus continuously on results for the ultimate customer and the value they perceive. Customers put a demand for value on your organisation. If that value-added is insufficient, customers will change suppliers.
Lean IT Principle II – Value Stream
Value is delivered through a Value Stream. This is an end-to-end process triggered by the customer that ensures the delivery of the required value as quickly as possible. A value stream is comprised of all tasks and activities used to bring a product or service from concept to customer, and includes all information, work and material flows.
Lean IT Principle III – Flow
In order for a value stream to deliver value, it must have Flow. This means that the activities must follow each other with minimal interruptions and minimal intermediate stockpiles. This means designing the ow such that each unit that enters the ow is carried out to its conclusion without interruption. A result is that Flow means working with so-called ‘single-piece flow’, i.e. each unit of work goes through the process on its own. This is the opposite of working in batches where multiple units of work are processed through a particular step together.
Flow is interrupted mostly by these types of waste: handoffs, inspections, and waiting times. WIP (work in progress) is an obstacle to achieving ow, generated by differences in work tempo. Inventory can result from a work tempo faster than customer demand. Flow is about getting the right materials and the right information to the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time, every time, in short: Just in Time. One word of caution: even if a process has ow, it is vital to manage the demand to ensure that the work can be carried out, since changing demand can alter the ow in the process.
Lean IT Principle IV – Pull
It is also vital that the customer can trigger the value stream when the value is required. This is the essence of Pull. A Pull Production System is one that explicitly limits that amount of work in process that can be introduced into the system. Nothing is to be produced until the next process really requires it. For service industries like IT, this is less problematic than for production industries, since the service is consumed as it is produced and is generally started when requested by the customer.
Lean IT Principle V – Perfection
Last but not least, Lean aims for Perfection. This does not mean that multiple quality controls need to be in place, causing delays. It means that each actor in the value stream must know his/her task and the associated quality requirements. The essence of perfection is doing things right the first time. This aspect also ensures that there is a focus on continuously improving the ability to deliver value. Transparency helps the aim for perfection because transparency ensures useful feedback, and feedback is required to understand where delivery does not meet expectations. We need to create an environment where learning from mistakes can become a powerful element of continuous improvement and initiatives are not killed immediately. There is no end to the process of reducing effort, time, space, cost and mistakes while offering a product which is ever more nearly what the customer actually wants.