What IT Can Learn From Manufacturing

Background

A long time ago, or at least what seems like a long time ago, in the U.S., Manufacturing was King. For companies whose primary product was manufactured, manufacturing, along with finance, dominated discussions.  There was little concern for quality, cost, or customer service.  The customers would get what they got (and like it), and any additional costs incurred would simply be passed along in the price of the product.  Life was good! Continue reading

Creating a Necessary Dependence – An IT Business Alignment Whitepaper

 

Over the past several months, I have written several posts about the issues facing IT Business Alignment, a need to create a dependence between IT and the Business, and an emphasis on taking a process centric approach to the issue.

I decided to consolidate that into a white paper, which is now available. 

It’s not sponsored by a large software or hardware company, but does present an approach offered by my company (New Age Technologies) to help an organization move toward IT Business Alignment by focusing on a process to be improved, then understanding how it’s infrastructure and technology can help that process.

Please feel free to leave any comments about the paper at this post, or you can email me at the address on the paper.

I hope you enjoy!

Whitepaper:  Creating a Necessary Dependence: A Process Centric Framework for IT Business Alignment

 

Thanks!

 

Glenn Whitfield

Want IT Business Alignment? Change Your Approach and Create a Dependence

 

What’s wrong with your approach to IT Business Alignment is your approach to IT Business Alignment. For over 30 years, organizations have been wrestling with the IT Business Alignment issue, and according to the annual Society of Information Management survey it remains a top issue today. 

Why is this so difficult to get our arms around?  I’ve written previously about how defining IT Business Alignment has been an ongoing issue, and how our organizational structures make it very challenging (here).  We have spent so much time struggling to figure out the right approach that perhaps we have lost our way.

Part of this struggle is due to the definition itself.  ITIL v3 defines Business/IT Alignment as:

An approach to the delivery of IT Services that tries to align the Activities of the IT Service provider with the needs of the Business.

The problem with this definition is it defines Business/IT Alignment as an approach. Other definitions call it an “ongoing process” (Wikipedia).  While there may be a process to achieve it, Business/IT Alignment is not an approach or process, it is an outcome.

It is the outcome of many different approaches and processes which will vary by organization and will involve varying levels of technology.  Defining it as an outcome:

IT Business Alignment is the delivery of IT Services that does align the IT activities to the needs of the business.

Now looking at it as an outcome, how do you know when you’ve achieved it?  Well, it’s just like in the movie Goldfinger, when James Bond is asked, “What do you know about gold 007?”  His response was, “I know it when I see it.”  IT Business Alignment is like this in many ways because there is no “one size fits all” solution; each organization is unique, and alignment will look different in each.  This is what makes it so challenging.  An attempt by Company B to replicate the alignment results at Company A will likely be disappointing, because Company B is different than Company A.

However, to achieve this outcome, there must be some fundamental pieces in place in order to drive the approaches to meet the outcome of IT Business Alignment.  Fundamentally, IT and Business must be dependent on each other for success, and this dependence must be mutually recognized and acted upon.

Creating this dependence starts with creating a relationship and establishing common metrics.  Many will say this already exists in their organization.  Before you do, ask if the actions back it up?  Remember, not only does the dependence need to be recognized, but it must be acted upon.

 One way to act is to take the initiative to engage with the business in helping improve their operation.  This is where taking a process based focus to the operation can provide real benefit.  Using techniques like Business Process Management, or the one we’ve developed like the IT2x FrameworkSM, can help IT and Business create the necessary dependence and become aligned.

Once aligned, continue to move IT and the business closer.  Whether you call this Synchronization, Convergence, or Fusion, doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the continuous process of moving toward these goals. 

Change your approach to IT Business Alignment.  Stop treating it as an approach, and start looking at it as an outcome.  Then act toward achieving this outcome, by creating a dependence on each other through relationships, common metrics, and a process centric approach to improving operations. 

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn Whitfield

 

 

 

 

Lean & IT

Forrester Research recently held several “jam sessions” the first of which was one that focused on the topic of creating a leaner IT, and has followed it up with several discussions on lean, declaring, “lean is ‘in’ right now.”  This scares me.  Not because the folks at Forrester are wrong, precisely the opposite.  They are right on in declaring that lean is a mindset and culture.  What scares me is how organizations and consultants will respond to this declaration.

Now, I am a huge proponent of Lean, having been involved with it my entire career, but organizations need to tread carefully when embracing Lean thinking.   Many will start with declaring they are starting a new ‘lean initiative’ and will hold kaizen events, use Value Stream Mapping, send people to training, study the Toyota Production System, and, yes, they will get results (this stuff DOES work).  After a while, however, they will start to stagnate.  The ‘lean initiative’ will start to seem stale, and will eventually wither on the vine, becoming yet another initiative that failed to sustain and meet expectations.

Why do they fail?  Because they did not implement Lean, they implemented the TOOLS of Lean.  Kaizen is a tool, Value Stream Mapping is a tool – in and of themselves, they are not Lean.  Lean is a culture of the continuous pursuit of the elimination of waste in everything the organization does.  Toyota does not care that companies (even competitors) come study their production systems, because they know that by the time the competitor is able to implement what they observed, Toyota will have moved on – that is the way their corporate culture works.  Toyota does not have a ‘Lean initiative.’ Toyota does not ‘do’ Lean, they ‘are’ Lean.  It’s just the way they do business.

Implementing the tools of Lean will get you results, and will help move you toward becoming a Lean organization, but Lean is bigger than the tools.

So, as IT organizations move to embrace Lean thinking, the question becomes, “Are you going to ‘do’, Lean, or are you going to ‘BE’ Lean?”

Glenn Whitfield

IT's Responsibility to the Business

 

When implementing a technology project, whether major or relatively minor, it is easy to forget the value and insight IT leaders and project managers can bring to the process being impacted.  This is something that is often forgotten not only by business leaders, but by IT leaders as well.  Much of this can be attributed to the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude.  This must STOP!

As stated in previous posts, IT is in the unique position to see the impact of changes across the organization, not just in the primary area impacted.  But, while it’s one thing to see it, it’s another to actually DO something about it.  How often does this happen?  A business leader makes a decision.  The IT staff follows orders and provides the IT solution that does what the business leader said he wanted – all the while wondering why such a “bonehead” decision was made due to the implications on the business further down the process.  The thoughts often go like this, “Hey business leader, you asked for a solution; I gave you what you asked for.  Not my problem if there were other issues because of your decision.  That’s not part of my job.”  IT leaders will cringe at the thought of their staffs thinking this way, and will swear up and down it doesn’t happen in their shop – but it happens, more than we would like to know.

Here’s a way to avoid it.  When I was working with a $1 Billion regional healthcare organization with multiple IT systems, the IT project manager came to me with a problem (one core system solves the problem, but that’s another issue).  The organization wanted to launch a branch of the rehab hospital inside of one of the existing acute care hospitals.  His job was to get the IT systems up and running.  They had just had a meeting where the acute care hospital president stated he wanted the rehab branch on the same IT system as his hospital.  To him, it made sense to have all the patient information on his system (primarily for accounting purposes), since the rehab branch was in his hospital.  The problem was, as the project manager explained to me, that the rehab hospital and all its existing branches were on a different system, and the physical therapists staffing the branch could come from any of the branches, so they would have to learn and know 2 core systems.  Also, it was planned that patients would transfer from the rehab branch at the acute hospital to other less specialized branches as their condition improved, creating duplicate entries when the patient went to another branch.  And, to top it off, the additional work to write and test the multiple interfaces put the project’s timing at risk.  But, the president said he wanted the rehab branch on his system, so that’s the direction the team was taking.  I asked a simple question, “Does he understand the consequences of his decision?  Did anyone explain them to him?”  The answer was, “No, he’s the president.”  My advice, “Then you need to.  He’s a reasonable person, lay it out and make sure he is informed.”  And he did.  The president realized the implications of his decision, and quickly reversed it, keeping in mind what was best for the organization as a whole. 

 When a business leader makes a decision about the direction of a project, and you know there will be unintended consequences, speak up.  No, not in front of everyone, but in a one-on-one session (always remember to use tact – never intentionally, or unintentionally, embarrass the boss in front of others).  Collect the information and what you believe to be the consequences of the decision and present them in a logical, concise manner (keep your boss informed as well – whether or not your boss attends will depend on your organization’s culture).  Then if the business leader still makes the same decision, at least they have done so with full knowledge of the consequences, and you have done all you can do to keep them informed.  Then, you may sleep better at night…. or want to update your resume.

Holiday Alignment Wishes

 

As we wrap up a year that many would like to forget, let’s at least be grateful for the good things that have happened.  Come on, there had to be at least one….

 

The holiday season is a great time to think about the past year, and get ready for the new one.  With that in mind, here are some Holiday Alignment Wishes I have:

 

o   IT Leaders will stop whining about how Business leaders “just don’t get it” and will actually go DO something about it.

o   Business leaders will stop blaming everyone (including IT) for their problems and look deeply at their own processes.

o   CIOs will step up to the plate and show how they can add real business value to the organization

o   CEOs/CFOs/COOs  will listen to their CIO

o   EVERYONE (CEOs, CIOs, IT leaders, Business leaders) will get over themselves and start working together to figure out how to improve their organization and make it successful.

 

This is a great time to take a look in the mirror and ask a simple question, “Am I part of the problem?”  Then ask yourself one more, “What am I going to do about it?”

 

Here’s to hoping 2009 is Happy, Health and Safe!!!

 

Aligning Technology to User's Needs

  

Had a client presentation the other day where we were reporting out on an assessment we did of the client’s infrastructure and IT processes.  The client asked us what presentation materials we would need, and we simply said we needed a large screen and we would bring the projector.  When we arrived, we were taken to a very nice conference room that was about 15’ x 30’.  At one end was a very nice 42” plasma screen.  We were told we could use that screen, there was not a larger one in the room.  We hooked up and away we went.  Problem was, if you were in the back of the room, you couldn’t read what was on the screen.  Yes you could see it, but you couldn’t read it.  Good thing we had handouts as well.

This happens all the time.  Organizations deploy technology (the 42” plasma screen with all the bells and whistles), without thinking through how it will be used.  I am sure everyone in the organization was very excited to have the latest and greatest technology at their disposal, until someone at the back of the room actually had to try to read the screen.

We made it through the presentation and averted disaster, but I kept thinking: how could it have been better?  A larger screen could have been used, or they could have placed the screen on the 30’ wall, but that would have meant blocking a window (to the lobby); possibly having multiple screens available.  Maybe there were some hook-ups in/under the table that you could plug in to so you could see it on your laptop?  If there were, no one in the room knew about it.  It was obvious no one thought to ask how the technology was going to be used, and if the technology being deployed was appropriate.  After all, it was only a conference room, and anyone can figure out what to do there.  How often do we make that assumption?

 So, how do you improve situations like this?  It’s easy.  When deploying even the simplest technology, make sure you understand how the user intends to utilize it, and work with them to make sure they are using it to optimize both the technology and the user’s process.  Simple conversations that take a little bit of time will go a long way toward better alignment with the business.

Let me know your thoughts!