Blog

December 21, 2017
Applying Lean Principles Outside of Development

Over the years, the application of Lean principles has been successfully incorporated into many areas of organizations - clearly, manufacturing and development have been enormously successful at both understanding the concept and applying it in the real world to achieve objectives. But, other areas of the organization can just as easily incorporate the same types of philosophies (and methodologies) within their own departments.

At its core, the Lean philosophy revolves around customer value as a focus and end goal, encouraging the application of these 7 main principles:

Eliminate waste: Thoroughly and critically examine existing processes and identify steps that are deemed wasteful to reach optimization.

Build quality in: By integrating quality at each step, rather than completing and revisiting, inherently eliminates waste and achieves a better ‘product’. 

Deliver fast: The concept of delivering fast allows the team the ability to elicit feedback and make adjustments as needed.

Create knowledge: It is imperative to capture knowledge that is created. This knowledge has a direct relationship to future performance around time to market and improved quality.

Defer commitment: The team should leverage the defer commitment concept to ensure they have the needed ‘functionality’ of what the customer is requesting.

Respect people: The team as a whole ultimately impacts the customer.

Optimize the whole: Individual teams should look at themselves as part of the bigger picture, not in a vacuum.

There is a misconception that Lean always equates to a reduction in workforce. This is fundamentally not true. When executed properly, it actually makes your workforce more productive, driving higher value per employee.

Getting Started

An interesting approach to beginning to look at Lean is to chart processes with something simple, like post-it notes. Often it becomes readily apparent that not all team members adhere to a common process, and this lays the groundwork to decide, as a team, where improvements can be made.  

  • Are you over-producing? Try to identify over delivering vs. over-producing, keeping in mind what is most valuable to the customer.

  • Are people on the team waiting? This is a key indicator of waste – obviously. Analyze and brainstorm how to overcome this stumbling block.

  • Is there excessive handling on the way to delivery? Look at how you can streamline approval cycles, requests, and information.

  • Is the process in play too complicated? Discuss and brainstorm as a team whether there is a simplified method that achieves the same outcome desired.

  • Is there an unacceptable amount of defects? It’s common knowledge that the cost of quality increases and your value diminishes when something must be fixed after the fact.

These are just a few of the questions you can ask yourself and your team to see how Lean might apply in the work you perform every day.

Real World Illustration: Lean in a Professional Services Group

In a recent example of Lean, NeuEon recently worked with a large Edtech firm’s professional services group. The group was charged with upgrading numerous existing clients to their cloud product. The team performed a series of planning steps for using Lean/Kanban principles in their work. After some discussion, the team realized that there were many tasks that could either be eliminated or automated to increase efficiencies. The team also implemented Atlassian’s Jira to track the standard tasks for each upgrade. In using Jira and Lean/Kanban principles together, they identified and quantified that the work in the queue would never be finished within the prescribed times. This realization of the amount of actual work vs. available resources empowered the team to discuss expectations internally and with clients.

Other key data points that revealed themselves in this new Lean/Kanban process included severe bottlenecks in the process. The team could identify tasks and dependencies that were built into the overall process and acknowledge that these dependencies, in some instances, were “band-aids” that were integrated into and became part of the process. The team was then able to assess their process and highlight these areas for improvement critically. The result not only helped the team deliver better quality for the client but also prepared the team to tackle new initiatives with knowledge of how to apply Lean to every situation moving forward.

Conclusion

The application of Lean can be adopted by multiple functional areas across organizations and shouldn’t be looked at as something done only by specific departments. Lean can be used in any industry, and its principles allow for a company to make teams more accountable and own the process they use each day to create a product or service, regardless of whether the customers are internal or external.


Jim Hannon is a Lead Consultant at NeuEon, specializing in the implementation of Agile Transformations and business process improvement.