I think it’s time technologists in corporate IT settings pay closer attention to integrating systems thinking into their leadership. To enable our businesses to get the most value from IT, there are some simple steps leaders can take to rethink the way they deliver IT in corporations. These suggestions follow the simplicity and advice of John Seddon of Vanguard fame, incorporates lean IT concepts, and good old fashioned leadership ingenuity. The primary formula goes like this: Understand, Improve, Pull IT.
We have created a role within our organization patterned (stolen) from Womack and Jones (who also stole the idea) called a Value Stream Manager (VSM). The primary point of creating this role is to give ownership of a value stream, from end-to-end, to a single person in the firm for a product line. From a systems perspective, it is critical to ensure someone is reviewing the entire value stream “outside-in” (from the point of view of the customer). The point is that we need our managers and leaders to truly, deeply understand the nature of demand for their products, as well as the current capability of the system (that they find themselves in) to satisfy that demand. They need to understand where the waste is in the system. They need to know their team’s primary challenges delivering this value to their customers. They need to know where these processes break down, even if they need to cross organizational boundaries. They need to recognize how value flows from end to end. If you’re a fan of Japanese concepts, ask your managers to “go to the Gemba” – go to the place value is created, the “factory floor”, and see for yourself.
The next step in the process is to improve the performance of the system. The clearer the picture is for you from “going to see”, the easier it should be to cut the waste, create simplified processes, eliminate unnecessary steps, challenge the status quo, and refine the end to end system to perfectly achieve the value you intend. This is the reason the system and product or service exists, and value should begin to flow incredibly fast (and smoothly) toward the customer. The colossal lesson here is that IT solutions (at this point in the process) actually serve to HINDER your ability to design a system best suited to create or deliver value for your customers. “IT” makes change harder, more costly, and only serves to codify dysfunctional system design. This step is where Value Stream Management becomes a full contact sport, employing “Kaizen” (small scale, continuous improvements) and “Kaikaku” (disruptive, dis-continuous improvement events) to accelerate the value of your product or service. This is where the vast majority of the value is realized, and all without so much as a discussion about Software Design Specs, Gartner Magic Quadrants and vendor RFI’s.
At this point, the time has come to review the simplified value stream (waste removed and flowing smoothly) and “pull” IT into the process, only where it belongs. With your profound and complete knowledge of the value stream you manage and designed, you are in a position to make this determination and understand if IT can help enable further improvement.
What Have We Accomplished?:
You just shrunk your IT investment dramatically to manage a greatly simplified system. Conversely, you are now deriving considerably more value from it.
Interesting how that works.