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The Culture of Getting to Lean IT

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The Culture of Getting to Lean IT

In my previous post, I cautioned that organizations looking to Lean IT as an approach to cost reduction must embrace certain cultural changes to be successful. This post will propose some of the critical cultural behaviors required for successful Lean IT.


The first thing to recognize is that a strict command and control management style runs counter to Lean IT. If we create an environment of low trust and require employees to simply follow the orders of management, our employees will have neither the authority nor the motivation to examine their work for continuous improvement. Lean manufacturing and the Shewhart/Deming PDCA cycle have, long supplanted the Taylor Scientific Management Theory. What is most interesting is that it is possible to take employees that have worked decades in the old style and with proper training, management support and coaching successfully deliver high quality at volume with a lean approach. The case study of NUMMI, the joint venture of GM and Toyota, which rehired the union employees from the shuttered Freemont plant is perhaps the best example (listen to Podcast – This American Life. Episode 361 NUMMI 2015. July 17, 2015).


Those who adhere to a command and control strategy should reflect that most militaries have for centuries transitioned to decentralized authority dating back to Napoleon’s maneuver warfare. Neither commands nor planning are recommended beyond general guidance, with the next level of authority adding further specifications as necessary. Everyone retains freedom of movement and decision within the bounds of their authority (Bungay, S. 2010. The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps Between Plans, Actions, and Results. Nicholas Brealey Publishing).


With the proper management support and high-level specifications, small self-directed teams have the autonomy to achieve the work in the most efficient manner. Moreover, since the responsibility of the outcome is in their hands, and they are closest to the work effort, they naturally attend to issues of quality. Every team member in fact is required to stop the flow of work whenever defects are found. When the focus is on outcome the team will deliver on quality and continuously improve the work reducing cycle times and inexorably do more with less.


Perhaps the most significant cultural change for our organizations is to provide a culture of blameless reporting when problems arise. Any problem which arises within an IT Value Stream should stop the flow of work and be addressed until resolved. Otherwise problems keep piling up and passing on defects downstream only becomes more expensive.  The ability to tackle problems head on and swarm the team to address the problem immediately is totally dependent on the culture of blamelessness.


When Silver Tree does an assessment with a client for Lean IT if the organization is largely a command and control culture we coach the organization to adopt a Mission of Culture moving towards what Westrum (2004) labels as a generative culture. This however requires a different mindset so Silver Tree adopts several small steps to test whether such a change is possible for the organization. As is the case for learning new skills and behaviors sometimes we need to practice them before they become ingrained. The next blog post will speak to the importance of attending to the principles over the practices of lean.     

Want to learn more? View our various assessments and case studies. We welcome the opportunity to explore how we can help you.