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Friday, March 14, 2014

Continuous Service Improvement: "What's lean got to do with I.T.?"

Next week, the Service Greenbelts return for module 2 of the leanbelt certification program. Today's post, appropriately addresses the relevance of lean in service oriented industries. Dave Cresswell, guest blogger, returns to share the strides the I.T. department at BCIT has made.

The are many tools and techniques that can be applied to any CSI (Continuous Service Improvement) program, and lean methods form the foundational set of tools that we are applying in our development of a Continuous Service Improvement Initiative. As we start to socialize the idea of incubating and launching an organization wide CSI initiative, a number of questions have come my way from across our community. The two most common questions I am asked are "why Lean" and "is this an I.T. Methodology".

Why Lean?

The first question, "why Lean" is easy to answer once you start to understand the philosophy and principles behind the Lean approach. The basic three principles that are associated with Lean are:

1. respect for people

2. drive up customer value

3. eliminate waste

And the general philosophy of Lean is one of continuous improvement.

People, the Key to Lasting Organizational Transformation

Significant change is always difficult for any organization. And the larger (both depth and breadth), more complex an organization is, the more difficult it typically is to embrace and accept significant change. The depth of the change initiative also plays a significant role. If an organization is looking to make a short term change to address a particular situation, the approach to introducing and managing that change has very specific attributes and is typically easier to implement than one that is fundamentally changing the DNA of an organization or what it does or how it does it for an extended period of time. An example of a short term change would include something like changing the structure of the winter academic term during the year of the winter Olympics to accommodate our staff that were volunteers and to mitigate traffic concerns. In this case, the communications needed to be timely and shared broadly, with a clear statement of the value to the individuals, the organization and the larger shared community involvement in the winter Olympics. There needed to be clear intention and general instructions for the 'rules of engagement' during this time. That was supplemented with facts like dates, times of day, etc., and very specific information about how work would continue to get done, and finally ensuring broad engagement at the departmental level to do the planning required to achieve the outcome.

However, making or introducing a long lasting fundamental change often requires a shift in our shared and organizational culture. And as the quote goes, "culture eats strategy for lunch, every time!" (attributed  recently to Shawn Parr from Fast Company, though originally believed to be a quote from Peter Drucker). Changing organizational culture is a much more daunting task, but one that if supported properly and done right will realize significant ongoing benefits for the organization and all of its community members. Adopting a focused and methodology-bound Continuous Service Improvement initiative across the entire organization does represent the introduction of a significant change. By choosing to base that on the Lean methodology and philosophy means identifying and celebrating small, but continuous improvements over time, as opposed to the Herculean efforts that some organizations undertake to make significant change essentially overnight. Another quote attributed to Confucius is "the man who moves a mountain starts by carrying...small stones". Working on smaller, incremental changes and improvements will allow us to realize benefit much sooner, and will make the overall task much more manageable. That approach will help to mitigate some of the challenges we all have with adapting to change.

So if we approach this initiative with a view to making our customer's experience better (driving up customer value) we can directly address the value proposition we are asking our customers to engage in, whether those are external customers (students, applicants, other post-secondary institutions, etc.) or internal customers (other BCIT groups, departments, community members) that receive the service we each provide on a daily basis. And by facilitating the exercise using Lean skilled and certified internal coaches as we continue to develop them, applying one or more of the over 150 tools in the Lean tool kit, who better to engage than our colleagues and team mates that are directly involved in the service or process to help us understand exactly how the process works today, and what we could do to improve it in the future. A future state where unnecessary and non-value-add steps and activities in our processes are eliminated (eliminate waste) resulting in more of our effort and outcomes focused on direct customer value. Listening and learning from the people that are directly involved (respect for people) and growing and improving based on their depth and knowledge of their business.

Why Start with I.T.?

As for the second question, "is this an I.T. Methodology", the answer is an unqualified "no". This is a business transformation technique focused on continuous improvement that can be applied across the organization. It can be applied as easily to the shipping and receiving area and processes as it can be to recreation services, or Financial Services processes. In fact, we have now started to apply Lean techniques and tools in a number of Institutional areas including Admissions, I.T. Services, Logistics, Warehouse, and Records Management to name a few.

So you then might ask, why is it that I.T. Services appears to be leading this? There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is one of opportunity. We needed a way to re-engineer our Incident Management process when we were installing a new system to capture and track incidents at the Service Desk. (An "incident" can be thought of as any contact from faculty or staff or students reporting a problem to IT Services). We have approximately 40,000 contacts a year at the IT Service Desk. We wanted to make the process better for our customer, and the prospect of eliminating waste in the process was extremely appealing. So we tried Lean out on that project - and it was a great success. Another reason that I.T. Services is involved in this initiative lies in the make-up and mandate for part of our team - the Business Analysts. A large part of their role has always been business process improvement, so there is a natural affinity for this activity within that team. And finally, another capability that part of our team brings to the Institute is the identification, incubation and launch of structured methodology. Whether that's Project Management methodology, Enterprise Architecture methodology, I.T. Security Methodology, or any other structured methodology.

But the fact that we are starting this initiative shouldn't be confused with where it could end up in the future. We are taking a "business" approach to this methodology. How can Lean, and other Continuous Service Improvement methodologies be leveraged across all areas of BCIT to drive up customer value and eliminate waste. Within I.T. Services, we have developed a proposal and plan for initially building some capability, but over time, growing that capability so we also have capacity across the entire organization that would see expertise being developed broadly, with our Lean certified practitioners initially playing the role of Lean coach for other areas as they become capable and self-sufficient themselves.
 David Cresswell, Associate Director of Strategic Practices in I.T. Services at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Greater Vancouver, BC ( ).  

As part of his portfolio, David and his team are responsible for identifying, incubating and introducing new methodologies and practices to benefit the Institute.  Lean is one of those methodologies that is being implemented through the Strategic Practices portfolio.   
David can be reached at  

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