BSc, Computer Science and Ph.D., Object-oriented quality metrics, Southampton University
BRINGING “LEAN” TO IT
A methodology that originated in the auto industry can help you manage change, improve productivity and ensure an optimal working level – simultaneously.
Managing change in an IT production environment is similar to making improvements to a plane while it’s still flying in the air. You cannot tell your internal or external customers, “Sorry, we’re going to stop supporting this application for three months while we are changing to a new service model.” In our experience, the Lean methodology is a great approach to introducing change, improving productivity and quality and ensuring the environment is working at an optimal level, all at the same time.
The Muri Program
A few years ago, Deutsche Bank embarked on a global technology operating model transformation. As the drive towards world class IT and production management continues, complexity reduction is a key principle behind everything we do. An important component of this initiative is the “Muri” program, which I was asked to lead. Launched in September 2010, the program’s primary goal was to reduce waste and simplify processes and procedures by focusing on delivering exactly what external customers or internal clients’ needed, when and where they needed it and at the expected quality.
By adopting Muri as the program name, we wanted it to act as an ongoing reminder of the overall objectives of complexity and waste reduction. Muri is a Japanese term, popularized originally as a key concept in the automotive industry, signifying a process which is overburdened with unnecessary activities. It was first practiced as part of the Toyota Production System which was a major precursor of the more generic ‘Lean Manufacturing’ framework.
While its origins lie in the automotive industry, Lean principles have been successfully applied to healthcare, higher education, software development, IT service desks and other public and professional services. As IT functions have become tightly integrated with businesses’ primary activities, the Lean principles have been increasingly applied to IT management.
Getting people into the Lean mindset is key to driving a culture of continuous improvement and rationalization of processes and procedures. Applied within other parts of Deutsche Bank, the Lean approach has proven that it can make real and substantial improvements in both productivity and quality of work.
A number of specific considerations drove us to apply the Lean approach to our IT organization. These issues, I believe, are common to all production environments, in any industry:
Managing change and maintaining stability
We realized that if we wanted to transform our operating model into a world-class delivery service, we must be extremely good at driving and implementing change in our ongoing work. We needed a proven, standardized process of managing change without jeopardizing the stability of our environments.
Integrating change into daily work
More often than not, if you ask a team to improve their work, they will work on it outside of their day-to-day activities, when they have got some free time. This generally leads to approximately 5-10% quality or efficiency improvements, but no more. We needed a completely different approach, one that integrated a standardized process of change into daily work activities.
Managing change proactively
Historically, we have been very good at fire fighting, or as we also call it “chasing the ambulance”. When there is an issue, everyone gets involved, works late and come together and solve it. What we have not been quite as good at is being proactive at problem prevention. How do we identify issues before they occur? How do we work on preventing some of the larger incidents from occurring? We needed an approach that will help us move from being reactive to being able to anticipate and manage change.
The Muri program consists of a number of “waves.” In each wave, a standard rigorous methodology is applied involving selected teams running parallel projects after attending intensive five-day training in what we call a “Lean Academy.” At the academy, we spend a few days discussing Lean principles and tools. The remainder of that week is spent on defining the problem and identifying what the project scope would be, what the problem statement is, what the objectives are and thinking about some of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It is very important to establish some KPIs or metrics at the start of the project so that when we implement any improvements, we can measure their benefits.
Each project then proceeds through a standard process, the “5D approach”, consisting of five phases: defining the problem, diagnosing the root causes through data gathering, designing the solution, developing the solution and delivering the change to the work activity. Each phase has required deliverables which are reviewed in a formal stakeholder meeting which approves the team moving forward to the next phase.
Once the project is completed, usually at the end of a 15-week period, we make sure that the results are embedded in the organization and that the change we made becomes business as usual. It is very easy to fall into the trap of delivering some improvements and then letting the team just go back to the way they did their work before. To make sure the behavior change is sustained and is part of the fabric of the work process, we have instituted a number of practices around what we call “sustainability”. For example, there is what we call a daily huddle, which is when the entire team comes together, discussing on a daily basis what the priorities are, what some of the challenges are and doing some problem-solving together.
The 15-week project is really just the enabler to getting people to start thinking about continuous improvement. When they have their daily huddles six months down the line, they are actually suggesting more improvements. They are doing daily problem-solving without artificially setting aside time to “do some problem-solving”.
The first project we embarked on highlighted the benefits of the program to the organization and to the people involved. It focused on the work of the client services group in one of the bank’s units — the people who talk to the customers, run the help desk and deal with what we call the level-one queries — and its associated services operations group, the technical group responsible for dealing with level-two queries — diagnosing issues, stopping and starting processes, etc.
In the ‘Define’ and ‘Diagnose’ phases of the project, after extensive data gathering, we found a number of core issues, including:
- Unnecessary tickets & service requests
- Unbalanced supply & demand management
- Unbalanced allocation of staff, with high variability
- Significant amount of non-value-adding activities
At the end of the 5D process we measured the metrics we had identified and then continued collecting data for the next three months. Some metrics have improved significantly, for example:
- Average turnaround time of incidents reduced by 63%
- Incident business impact time has decreased by 74%
- Service Level Agreement adherence improved by 56%
In addition, there were some metrics that improved a little bit and there were some that actually went the other way. Lean IT is not a magic wand. In 15 weeks you are not going to fix everything, but you can identify some quick wins, some areas you can improve on and most important, you now have a mechanism for understanding the metrics that are not improving and what is causing the issue.
Less Work, More Satisfaction
One result of this project that was particularly interesting was the gain in productivity: 43% improvement. At the end of the project, the team was almost half its former size. That was very significant, particularly considering the improvements in the quality of the work as indicated by the other metrics.
I was a bit worried that the members of the team would be concerned about seeing their friends and colleagues leave. I thought that if all of the quality metrics had improved that significantly, they may be very stressed and under a lot of pressure. I went to visit the team and did an unannounced floor walk. What surprised me most was the number of people that came up to me and said how much the Lean program had helped them, and how they liked the daily huddles. They liked the fact that they were able to focus on problem-solving and improvements to their daily tasks instead of knowing every day that there is a backlog of tickets that they need to tackle. They also liked the fact that their colleagues were able to move on to better roles and jobs.
Not only was this a positive experience, it was also very sustainable from the team’s point of view. We chose Muri as the core of our Lean IT work and the name of the program because the key question for us was, How do we lessen the burden on our teams? There is a lot of waste that they have to deal with on a daily basis, so how do we make their lives easier? The results show that their work became significantly less burdened by non-value-adding activities, the quality of the service that they are delivering has improved and as a result, our clients’ lives have been made easier as well.
All Together Now
A program like Muri cannot succeed without the support and involvement of top management, employees and a partner such as HCL, which has invested heavily in learning, adopting and implementing the Lean approach.
If you look at implementations of Lean principles in other companies and industries, you find out that senior management support is a very important success factor. One of the things we have done is to organize site visits for senior executives. There are visits to other companies with a mature Lean program to listen to what they have learned and there are quarterly visits to our offshore teams to see first-hand how things are working on the ground level.
I wanted top management support for the program, but did not want them to mandate the program. I felt if it was mandated at a senior level, we would get buy-in for six months, but then people would gradually lose interest. What I want them to do is to show support and encourage their teams, but it is up to my team to make sure that we bring along mid-level management and the people on the ground in terms of understanding the program and embracing it.
To that end, the people leading the projects — we call them navigators — are all senior managers in each of the functional areas we touch. They are not experts parachuting into the organization. This way we make it clear that the program is about helping the teams that already deliver the service understand how they can use Lean methodologies to improve it.
I feel very strongly that if you do not do that, people will perceive this as something that is being done to them. Instead of me saying, “Here are the Lean objectives. You need to meet those objectives. This is why you must do the program,” it should be something that they feel that they want to do. Otherwise, we will not be able to achieve our long-term objective which is to embed the Lean principles in the organization and make it business as usual.
Three things are vital to driving an effective lean implementation program:
- Get people to adopt a mindset & culture of continuous improvement.
- Institute practices to ensure that the new mindset is sustained over the long term.
- Establish some Key Performance Indicators (KPI), so that the benefits of any improvement can be measured quantitatively.
It is the mid-level and ground staff that make or break any change management initiative like Lean. Making them understand and embrace the program is of vital importance. Senior management support is key but not at the cost of top-down mandate.
“Getting people into the Lean mindset is key to driving a culture of continuous improvement and rationalization of processes and procedures.”
“It is very easy to fall into the trap of delivering some improvements and then letting the team just go back to the way they did their work before. To make sure the behavior change is sustained and is part of the fabric of the work process, we have instituted a number of practices around what we call “sustainability”.
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