Greater Value Add, Go Lean!

| By: Goh Boon Nam, Chief, IT Service Management, NUS-ISS

By Goh Boon Nam, Chief, IT Service Management

Lean IT offers a systematic approach that creates greater value-add for customers while reducing waste and improving quality of service delivery.

Despite recent advances in information technology (IT), many customers and users continue to be frustrated with slow and bureaucratic IT services that fail to deliver the value customers and users want. Conventional methods for improving IT service management are mostly centred around Kaizen (改善), which promotes incremental improvements, when often, a total review and overhaul of an inefficient or failed system is required instead. This is where Lean IT can help. 

Lean IT originates from lean manufacturing, a systematic method developed by Toyota to eliminate waste (無駄 or muda) created by overburden (無理 or muri) and unevenness in work (斑 or mura), and the creation of real value-add to customers through Kaikaku (改革). The eight types of waste identified in lean, and aptly acronymed DOWNTIME, are Defects, Overproduction, Waiting Time, Non-utilised Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion and Excess Processing.

A lean improvement always starts from the customer’s perception of value that is derived from the service or solution. Anything that is not adding to the value stream is either eliminated or reduced. 

To illustrate, let’s consider an audio-visual (AV) service desk in an educational institute. The service desk has two members who come in every day at 8am. Things usually get busy at around 9am when the classes begin and the lecturers start encountering problems with the AV systems. When there are more than two incidents occurring at the same time, the service desk will find itself unable to cope, leaving the affected lecturers dissatisfied with what they perceived as tardy and poor services. This happens about 15 times throughout the year.

You have been appointed as the new manager of the AV service desk and your first task is to resolve the high level of dissatisfaction among the lecturers. Take a moment to think what can you do to improve the situation? Here’s a clue: This is not a capacity problem where you can simply increase the number of service staff to deal with the occasional surge in workload. 

According to renowned economist, Theodore Levitt, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”. To think lean, you have to start by asking who these “people” are, what is the outcome they want (the “hole”) before seeking the best approach (the “drill”) to deliver a smoother workflow that eliminates waste. 

In our scenario, the service staff is only busy in the morning but relatively free for the rest of day. Increasing the service staff would only create more muda, muri and mura in terms of waiting time and non-utilised talents without necessarily improving the service level. 

Being a lean practitioner, you decide to adopt Kaikaku and its ten commandments:

1. Be creatively dissatisfied
2. Strive to surpass customer expectation
3. View problems as opportunities for improvement
4. Challenge assumptions and the status quo
5. Ask why and what-if questions
6. Brainstorm solutions and look for synergy
7. Strive to do much more with less
8. Engage stakeholders to create and adopt improvement
9. Act promptly and learn as you go alo9ng
10. Follow Kaikaku with Kaizen

Applying the Kaikaku commandments, you discover that the lecturers are seeking an incident-free teaching experience. You challenge the assumptions and the status quo by asking why and what-if questions, like why the service desk should wait for calls to fix the problems instead of being more proactive and mobile, and what if the AV systems are already switched on and ready for the lecturers to use. To be certain, you interview a few lecturers in a focus group to determine the values they are expecting. To encourage greater buy-in from the AV team, you also involve the staff to brainstorm the right solutions, all the while seeking to achieve greater synergy in the new process by doing more with less. 

The team finally arrives at a new workflow where they will visit every classroom to service the AV systems and leave them on for the lecturers. While on-the-move, they will remain contactable on mobile phones. The smoother workflow will reduce waste in motion, waiting time and non-utilised talent, while delivering better value to the lecturers. To encourage adoption, you put the new process on trial for a week, and constantly look for Kaizen opportunities. 

Just as our simple scenario has demonstrated the power of lean, the practice has found application in many areas of IT including project management, software development and IT service management. Lean IT, however, is not a silver bullet. Many Lean IT implementations suffer from fragmented IT operations, process silos and the lack of experienced lean implementers who are able to visualise the value stream and bring about the change effectively. Done right, however, Lean IT holds real potential to transform the IT service management, if not the entire industry.  

Returning to our AV service desk, and with lean in mind, what can you do next to improve the process of the AV service desk? 

Interested to go lean? Contact Boon Nam at to start a conversation today.

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