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A Magic Pill LEAN practices in ICL Services
Do you have a "magic pill" that improves the performance of your team?
At IT-company ICL Services we have one. We use it to increase employee engagement, improve processes and teach the team to use every opportunity for improvement. In one team this pill helped decrease the number of incidents by 20 %, in another it increased performance by 28 %, and this is not the limit.
This pill is represented by a LEAN-approach that we have been developing for 4 years. We would like to share our experience in this short article.
What is LEAN?
The LEAN Production concept was formulated by Toyota in the 1950s. Toyota triumphantly entered the US car market in the 1960s: Japanese cars were better and cheaper than American ones. Other industries became interested in the LEAN concept: energy and trade, services and healthcare, the military, and later – IT.
The essence of LEAN is to do everything possible to really understand customer requirements and gradually remove everything that does not bring the customer value. In other words:
What LEAN gave us?
Let's begin with results.
We started to implement LEAN in 2013. Now, in 2017, most of our departments use it. The general results are:
This is what we've achieved for some of our Customers:
- the department for the development of installation packages and corporate OS images reduced operating time per package by 28 %. As a result, Customer orders are fulfilled much faster and always with high quality.
- First time fix on a software development and support project for a large retailer grew by 32 %. Customer employees noticed that problem resolution time became faster.
- an IT-outsourcing project for a global manufacturing company reduced monitoring incidents by 50 %. Engineers had more time for additional operations for the Customer.
- a project for a power generating equipment manufacturer helped reduce incoming incidents by 20 %, and the Customer gained more sustainable IT-infrastructure.
Implementation of this methodology allowed several projects to half routine tasks and repeated user requests! Being free from routine, employees can develop, look for new opportunities for improvement and increase service value for the Customer.
A lot of areas and practices have been created as part of LEAN methodology over the decades. "Our" LEAN version requires focusing on three aspects.
- Company employees.
- A culture of continuous improvement.
This means that (1) all company employees have to direct their activities at (2) providing better services for Customers and (3) continuously look for opportunities to improve existing services and business-processes.
LEAN implementation is a cultural change. Every employee has to take an active part. But cultural shifts are hard: people naturally resist change. At first, these changes seem distracting, useless and even harmful.
This is what helped us overcome skepticism.
- "Little by little". LEAN principles were implemented one by one: when one of them "settled down", we added another one. If any LEAN tool was not suitable for a certain team, they could refuse or modify it. Gradually we extended the number of teams where LEAN was implemented: we began with 5 projects, and now the whole company uses this approach.
- Management adherence. The decision to implement LEAN was made and supported by the company's directors.
- Community. In every team, LEAN-activities are implemented and supported by a dedicated employee – a Champion. The most active and competent employees of the team are invited to become Champions. Experts worked with them individually, showing the potential of the new concept. And when this person is "infected" with the idea, sooner or later he/she "infects" the whole team. The team-lead always supports every Champion, and every team's Champion shares his/her successes and failures with the community of Champions.
- Results. One employee admitted: "At first most of us didn't like this Quality Circle. But now we appreciate it, because we see that it gives us great results". The Quality Circle is a basic LEAN tool. We'll talk about it soon.
Briefly about the practical aspects of LEAN
The methodology requires following seven principles.
- Understand Customer needs. Build every process from the point of view of the value it brings the Customer.
- Involve every employee. We talked about this earlier.
- Ensure transparency. Every employee should understand that colleagues take part in creating value for the Customer.
- Learn from experience. Learn from your own mistakes and successes and from those of your colleagues.
- Monitor significant KPI. Focus on those metrics that reflect the creation of value for Customers.
- Remove waste. Waste is redundant actions that require resources, but don't create value for Customers. This is the cornerstone of LEAN. The major types of waste include unnecessary downtime, overproduction, etc. (the full list can be found in any article about the LEAN concept, including Wikipedia).
- Standardize. Document Best Practices and implement them in all teams involved in this process.
Our basic LEAN tool is a Quality Circle, weekly/daily team meetings.
They have a strictly defined structure and agenda. A mandatory component of a meeting is to discuss and register successes and failures for the period, analyze the reasons for problems and find solutions. During the Circle meetings participants monitor the team's key KPI and analyze the changes. Data and takeaways are logged on a physical or virtual structured board where the project status is displayed. The discussed issues must be resolved by the next Circle meeting. All team employees exchange information, review work processes and look for opportunities for improvement.
The Quality Circle embodies all LEAN principles, and employees find this approach convenient. Using the Circles together with other programs and initiatives helps increase effectiveness by 28 % and even 50 %.
Not only LEAN
LEAN is not the only solution that helps us continuously improve service quality for our Customers. Additionally, for example:
- every quarter we survey Customers about service quality satisfaction (C-SAT survey – Customer Satisfaction). If necessary we implement changes based on Customer expectations;
- on every service project we launch a Continuous Service Improvement Plan (CSIP). By increasing effectiveness we ensure a planned reduction of service cost for the Customer;
- we added the Customer Voice role for active Customer cooperation inside ICL Services;
- we are developing and implementing technical solutions (Server Automation Tool – server infrastructure management, Colibri – application deployment and migration management, etc.) to improve service efficiency.
But LEAN has become our common operation methodology that helps us properly use all those practices and meet Customer requirements. Our experience shows: companies that strive to achieve better outcomes not by number (of employees, investments, etc.), but by improvement and development, should try this methodology.
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