Lean Thinking 

“Lean Thinking” is the “World most recognized business transformation methodology”1. While Lean process improvement approaches were developed originally by Toyota over 50 years ago to help standardize a methodology of continuous improvement, Lean has since evolved through numerous iterations.

Today, Lean Six Sigma, the latest iterations, has evolved into an enterprise-wide tool. Lean practices are being used in engineering, in the front office, in the back office, in R&D, and even in IT to improve operations by driving waste from existing environments.

Large enterprise companies like Dell Computer, Amazon, Cisco, Yahoo, Wal-Mart, Bank America and Pratt & Whitney have achieved dramatic results. There are documented results of compressing order lead-times by more than 80%, reducing work-in-process inventories by 90%, improving quality to a Six Sigma level, and freeing up 60% of resources. And, the successes aren’t limited to only large and well-known organizations—there are also many small company examples.

But do principles that originated from the manufacturing sector have a place in the management of IT services and in software development? By exploring traditional IT operations and the wasteful practices it often employs, the answer is most definitely: yes.

According to McKinsey & Company2—applying Lean principles can increase application development and maintenance productivity by as much as 40%, while improving the quality and speed of execution. Why? Because the characteristics of an application development department are similar to those of a factory or production line, and each category of waste in manufacturing has a counterpart in application development (for example: rework due to application code bugs).

Similar thinking can be applied in the area of IT operations, because like application development, IT operations can be managed from a service lifecycle perspective; employing techniques and methods to better design, operate and transition business services in support of a broader business strategy. The new IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) V3 body of knowledge promotes this approach, and many organizations are starting to embrace it. Lean principles can supplement service management frameworks such as ITIL and COBIT. And although Lean focuses on waste and the removal of it, the goal of increased productivity and higher quality service through continuous improvement remain the same.

1James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos coined the term “lean” in their 1990 book The Machine that Changed the World to describe the manufacturing paradigm (often referred to as the Toyota Production System) developed by the Toyota Motor Company based on principles pioneered by Henry Ford.
2McKinsey & Company, The McKinsey Quarterly, "Applying Lean to Application Development and Maintenance", Noah B. Kindler, Vasantha Krishnakanthan, Ranjit Tinaikar, May 2007.