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?”