“LEAN IT is a set of techniques and approaches to help businesses with continuous improvement...”

Peter Hubbard is one of the main consultants of the prestigious Pink Elephant company. He has 20 years of experience in IT Service Management at companies like Rolls Royce, Heinz and British Petroleum. He speaks regularly at major industry conferences. He was the keynote speaker at ALVAO Inspiration Day in Prague on 17 May 2018. In an exclusive interview, we talked to him about LEAN IT management.

Judging from your webinars and online presence, you have been interested in LEAN IT a lot lately. When did the methodology first grab your attention? Why have you decided to dig deeper?

My father in law first introduced me to LEAN concepts about 4 years ago, as he was an engineer on a production line.  He was being taught LEAN management techniques as a way to improve the processes for making Pizzas en-masse in their factory.  I was studying for an MBA myself at the time and was interested in management techniques beyond those offered by IT Service Management in an effort to become more rounded.  That was my introduction to LEAN management and when about 2 years ago I started to become aware of LEAN IT, an IT-specific variety of the LEAN approach, I wanted to know more.  ITIL is a great base approach to ITSM but one of the issues its suffers from is that it does not pay as much attention to the people and culture aspects of transformational change as it should (which after all is what an ITSM implementation is, transformational change) LEAN IT gives me extra tools and techniques that address areas that ITIL is weak at.  

LEAN IT is all about waste elimination. In one of your webinars, you mention that very often people are not even aware of how much waste there is in their work environment. What are the most common sources of waste in IT departments? Do people tend to overlook something obvious?

The most obvious example of waste that I can call to mind is the amount of time that Incidents spend sitting and waiting for additional information.  I recall one engagement where an Incident was logged at the service desk with the simple message “Bob’s Phone doesn’t work” and passed on to 2nd level support.  After about 4 hours it came back to the service desk with an update to the notes “Who is Bob? What is wrong with his phone? And how am I supposed to reach him if it does not work??!” That incident sat at the desk until the following morning and was then picked up after lunch.  They tracked down ‘Bob’ in the middle of the afternoon and got the information needed and sent it back.  That’s almost a day and a half of pure waste right there.  Simply by asking the right questions at the right time the incident could have been progressed far faster and Bob’s phone would have been fixed.  That sort of thing happens almost daily, or even hourly on most service desks.  

LEAN is not supposed to replace ITIL, DevOps or other frameworks. It gives you instruments for improvement upon existing structure. When should the company consider LEAN implementation? What are the key signals?

A company does not ‘Implement LEAN’ any more than you implement a toolbox if you’re a mechanic. Its part of the tools and equipment you should have at your disposal to tackle your work.  LEAN is a set of techniques and approaches that help out with continual improvement.  I am aware of over 50 different LEAN techniques (most can be learned in less than 15 minutes) that give a manager a great array of tools at their disposal for identifying and eliminating waste.  Why would you not want that? 

But as to danger signals? Low success rate at improvement projects, disengaged IT staff, working on goals that don’t support the business or even worse not knowing WHAT goals will support the business, excessive Mean-Time-To-Repair KPIs or KPIs that only measure workload and not the value added to the business.  All of these should be sending warning signals to IT management.

LEAN was born in large corporation burdened with complicated processes and bureaucracy. Is it relevant to small business also?

Absolutely its relevant to small businesses.  LEAN IT is an improvement approach (or at least a series of them) that can be used at any size organization.  Why would an organization, no matter how small, not want to improve its working practices? You don’t need expensive tools or consultants (I probably should not say that, being one myself….) but you can start to achieve benefits by simply making sure your team knows what the goals of the department are, and which ones of their activities provide the most value towards that goal.  Encouraging them to identify waste and feeling empowered to suggest ways to remove that waste. Everyone can benefit from that.

LEAN is about cultural change. It requires a deep change of mindset. To change corporate culture completely is usually a much more difficult endeavour than to implement technical/or procedural changes. What is your experience with this aspect of LEAN IT? How can we motivate people to embrace the change?

I heard a wonderful statement a while ago – ‘Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast’ from Peter Drucker (Management consultant and all-round improvement guru) It’s hard to change culture as what you’re actually changing is peoples’ habits.  People don’t like having their habits changed for them.  My biggest advice would be to get familiar with the work of Professor John Kotter on transformational change.  He has a structured approach for managing transformational change in organizations that I use all the time.  The first step is the most important and it’s so obvious, you must build a sense of urgency.  If someone tells you that you have to change, your first question is ‘Why?’ – if the reason for the change is not clearly understood, as well as that reason being seen to be critical, not just to the organization but the individual as well, then just saying ‘I decree you should change!’ is unlikely to succeed.  

I look forward to discussing LEAN IT (and ITIL, DevOps, Software Asset Management, various ISO, and anything else ITSM related) with all the delegates at the conference! Come up and say hello.  I’m a nice guy… honest!

Published at: 11. June 2021

CIO Newsletter

Provides new perspectives on the role of the CIO in the company, inspiring recommendations on how to succeed in this role, advice on how to "manage" IT department employees, and industry news.

Subscribe to the newsletter

eBook 90-day plan for the new IT manager

An experienced CIO who will give you a clear answer on how to proceed if you are put in charge of IT and expected to take quick and effective action.

Download eBook