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Forrester Releases Free Research Report on Lean for Business

by Deborah Hartmann Preuss on Oct 01, 2009 |

Forrester Research, an American-based independent research firm with offices worldwide, will next week host their Business Technology Forum 2009 in Chicago, on the theme "Lean: The New Business Technology Imperative." In preparation for this event, they have released an analyst report bearing this same title, currently a free download (it requires free website registration). Forrester's strategic view of Lean is that it's a very broad management approach to doing three things: reducing waste, creating value for customers, and making the company more flexible so it can respond quickly to new customer needs. In the report, written for a business audience, not specifically IT, the six Forrester analysts discuss Lean as a whole-business imperative, and the impact this has on IT. It ends with an important caution: "Don’t get so caught up in eliminating waste that you forget to create value and increase flexibility. The three must go hand in hand."

Readers of InfoQ's Agile news have this year seen many items about Lean software development and the growing application of the Kanban practice. But the Lean movement is far from new; it has been well-known outside of IT for over two decades: emerging in manufacturing and more recently being applied in other areas of business operations. The report acknowledges the confusion businesses can experience in choosing a Lean methodologies for the overall business, and offers a "CliffsNotes" summary of  Lean, Six Sigma and TQM, all approaches which have been around for many years.

Lean's focus on a product's entire value stream, all the way from the consumer to the "production floor" requires a constantly widening view of this value stream, in an effort to avoid local sub-optimizations (where a given department or division removes waste locally without impacting, or negatively impacting, other parts of the production process). In some instances it starts in IT, when Lean and/or Agile software process improvement inspires other parts of the business to also introduce process improvement: Lean is a business-wide approach that complements Agile IT. In other cases businesses bring their Lean approach to IT as they extend their value stream view inward through the organization.

Most Lean initiatives start at an operational level with a set of tactical initiatives and begin by reducing waste ... But if you focus only on waste, you haven't achieved the full impact of Lean. At a strategic level, Lean is about running your company with a long-term view centered on delivering value rather than just achieving short-term results. This means focusing on continuous learning and improvement, on measuring where processes really add value, on improving quality in a never-ending quest for perfection, and on rewarding people based on these metrics. Lean means focusing on teamwork and collaboration rather than having a command-and-control mentality.
-- Connie Moore, Forrester VP Director of Research

Forrester reports "... seeing organizations completely re-evaluating how they're doing IT in terms of how it fits in the organization, how they measure, how they deliver, how they manage staff, and how they use technology." Forrester sees this rethinking as:

... an opportunity for IT to change the way it's measured, harness new technology and methods (cloud, virtualization, open source, Agile methods, improved build management and testing processes, etc.) to bring business value to the development cycle. It also offers IT the opportunity not only to build software well, quickly, and cheaply but also to build the right software, which is crucial to Lean adoption.

The report states that when IT is included in the Lean value stream, application development and delivery are transformed. For users of Agile methods, their evaluation of Lean's impact on IT should sound familar:

We are seeing fundamental shifts from contractual, adversarial relationships with the business to ones that are more collaborative. This happens more as a result of delivering software more frequently than as a grand social media or collaboration strategy. Delivering working software early shortens the feedback loop between business and IT, allowing them to collaborate more effectively.

Regarding businesses applying Lean to IT, the report also recommends some inward-facing practices to underpin a Lean technology-provisioning strategy for IT:  Doing market research on the workforce to find out what they need (for example: using personas); using workforce scenarios to build business sponsorship and do problem solving; and investing in continuous change management. There is also a caution: while implementing such an inward-facing program, businesses must not forget Lean's focus on "the real customer... the ultimate, external, paying customer the business serves."


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Interesting times ahead... by Bruce Rennie

As Lean seems to draw more attention, it will be very interesting to watch how the normally "cost accounting" mindset that seems to be prevalent in North America adjusts. It didn't work too well in the automotive industry, despite the clear examples of the Japanese.

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