Lean IT: The Key to Successfully Challenging the Status Quo…

The foundation of Lean IT is to focus on Value-Add Activities. The tool to get there?  Value Stream Mapping.  

The key to execution and challenging the status quo?  Senior leaders in the trenches.


Going to Gemba. Our 3-day value stream mapping workshop requires senior leaders to walk through the physical workflow of their organization (going to gemba in lean IT speak).  However, knowledge-driven IT work is often hard to observe. Moreover, much software development has a global dimension which further limits senior leadership ability to see how the work is performed.

Recommendation? Live video to have a window into those aspects of the value stream you cannot physically access. Bringing the work force into the conference room does not provide the insights obtained when directly examining the workflow.

Senior Leaders. Senior leaders must drive outcomes from the workshop – as they are in the best position to understand the entire value stream. Silver Tree Services relies on senior leaders to

  • understand how and why queues are building up
  • what activities are actually value-add
  • identify the current value steam holistically
  • have the insight to articulate what the future value stream should look like.

If a leader delegates this responsibility to a lieutenant, the risk is missed opportunities for driving to the leanest value stream – as the lieutenant is less likely to have the big picture in mind.

Depiction. The current state map depicts process blocks of the value stream and clearly shows lead time (LT) and process time (PT) for each component. In my previous post I depicted a highly idealized waterfall software development process in the standard value stream map format that practitioners use to provide the holistic view of the value stream. In this format LT and PT values simply show beneath each of the processes in the value stream.

Alternatively, a timeline depiction shows queues represented as blank spaces– showing the lead time from request to delivery of the good/service. When we propose the corresponding future value stream in this manner the shortened time line is an effective means to communicate the improvement goal to everyone in the organization.

VSM Timeline Current - Future Software Dev
The Furture State with Reduced Cycle Time and Reduced Non-Value-Add Activities

The accompanying figure illustrates how using the Software Development timeline projection value stream can significantly reduce cycle time if both the queue time and work identified as unnecessary is minimized. Note in this depiction we have also broken out the process blocks to show necessary and unnecessary non-value-add work. The elimination of unnecessary non-value-add work is also important.

Reducing the Gap. Note the big gap between building the software and its release – typical of standard development shops which only release to production on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Infrequent build/releases of software staged as release trains are typically a product of the challenges of integrating large batches of requests/changes (often from multiple source code branches). DevOps with a focus on small batch size has developed several successful approaches to reduce this gap.

In proposing the future state value map our focus is on the big picture. Our attention is primarily on identifying and eliminating non-value-add work and queues. The transformation plan may identify necessary re-engineering work to accomplish this.

Executive in the trenches. Executives must lead the high-level transformation plan covered in the third day of this exercise to think through the steps needed to get to the future state and to be fully on board for what the organization needs to undertake to accomplish the future state. If delegated, even to highly respected lieutenants, it is all too easy for executives  –  when it is time to budget for the transformation  – to allocate the budget to another priority.

Only by walking the gemba, being in the trenches and thinking through this transformation will the senior leaders maintain the commitment to tackling the resistance to making changes to the status quo.