Lean & Forrester's Business Technology Forum

Well, it appears my fears have been realized.  As I mentioned in a prior post, Lean & IT, I expressed concern on how IT organizations and consultants would respond to Forrester’s declaration that Lean is “in.”  Regarding Lean, Forrester’s own blog said to, “consider it more a mindset and a culture than a guide.”  It was interesting then to receive in the mail the other day, from Forrester no less, a brochure on their Business Technology Forum 2009, with the theme, Lean: The New Business Technology Imperative.  However, it went downhill quickly from there.

I became a little concerned when I saw the picture on the cover: a man with a tape measure around his waist with the word “LEAN” repeated.  This conjures up the image of ‘trimming the fat’ or ‘cost cutting’, not a ‘mindset and culture’ as they had espoused in their blog.  My fears rang true when I read this in the introduction letter:

“Everyone wants to be Lean these days, whether it’s when stepping off a scale in the morning or when reviewing the cost of running a successful business, hence this year’s theme: “Lean: The Business Technology Imperative.”

Not deterred, I continued to read the through the brochure (wondering if it could still be useful) and came across one comment I thought made some sense:

“Lean thinking and Lean practices must affect the choices you make as a business technology leader.”

I agree with that line of thinking, but the problem is that as I continued to look at the presentations and the presenters, I did not see anything that would define what the principles of Lean thinking are, and what Lean practices would help improve an IT organization.  In fact, when looking on-line at the Bios of the presenters (all impressive), only a handful (a small one at that) had anything that would resemble ‘real world’ experience in Lean.  They all had lots of IT experience, but if I am in IT and want to learn more about how to apply Lean in IT, shouldn’t there be more emphasis on teaching the concepts of Lean thinking, and less about whether or not an IT application is Lean?

By taking this approach, Forrester is undermining the fundamental truth that Lean is a culture of the continuous pursuit of the elimination of waste in everything the organization does. They are treating Lean as simply a set of Tools to be used.  At best, they are asking people to ‘do’ Lean without even a clear definition of what Lean is.

They are missing the point.

People are going to spend a lot of money to attend this forum, and, especially those with limited knowledge of Lean thinking will leave with a complete misperception of what Lean is all about (based on the summaries in the brochure and on-line).  Just because the “Forrester” brand is on it doesn’t mean they are experts on the topic.

Take a look for yourself (here) and see if you think it would be worth attending.

And ask yourself again, are you going to ‘do’ Lean, or are you going to ‘BE’ Lean?

Let me know your thoughts.


7 thoughts on “Lean & Forrester's Business Technology Forum

  1. Glenn, I see the point that you’re making here. Not to excuse Forrester, but perhaps it helps to remember that they are primarily a market research company — and not IT practitioners.

    I recently wrote a post including the term “lean” — but, I considered that the definition might be subjective, so I included a link to the Wikipedia entry.

    I’m curious, in your opinion, is it somewhat accurate?

  2. I’ve followed Forrester off and on for about 10 years, since the time I worked for a software startup. It seemed that Forrester was more focused on trends and selling software (facilitating the vendors) as opposed to helping the users of said software. They weren’t as blatantly bad as some other “research” firms, but I’m not surprised they aren’t true lean believers.

    Rather than trying to learn from Forrester, the Lean Enterprise Institute is (and has been for 12 years) a great resource at http://www.lean.org.


    (conflict of interest statement, I started working for LEI in June but would have given that same endorsement before hand).

  3. Glenn,
    Great article. You’re spot on in regard to Lean being a cultural concept. You have to know and understand it and do as part of your core beliefs for it to be truly effective. Otherwise it will become the program du jour and focus only on the cosmetics of being Lean.


  4. Mark,

    LEI is an outstanding resource and I also highly recommend them for anyone wanting to start or continue their lean journey. I just hate to see Lean portrayed in this way because that is how it gets a “bad rap” or becomes thought of as a “flavor of the month” in some organizations. Lean has come a long way – If you’re familiar with the Hype Cycle, I would say Lean has reached the “Plateau of Productivity” in manufacturing, but is still on its way to the “Peak of Expectations” in IT.

    There are some excellent organizations applying Lean in Healthcare the right way, but some are just going through the motions much in the same way Forrester is suggesting IT organizations proceed. We need to continue to educate people on what Lean really means!

    Thanks for the comments!

  5. Pingback: Is Lean Equivalent to Optimized? | Tao of IT - Leading and living wisely in the world of Information Technology

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