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Continuous Improvement: Approaches to Using Lean in IT Management
In the 1980's, Professor Noriaki Kano invented a model that reflects the relationship between product qualities and customer satisfaction. He defined three categories of product qualities: basic, performance, and excitement. And then he explained how these or other qualities increase or decrease satisfaction from the use of the product.
This model demonstrates that the value of certain product qualities from the consumer's point of view changes over time. The qualities can transfer between categories. What originally created the WOW effect and belonged to the performance category is gradually becoming an integral (basic) attribute of this product or service. Let's take, for example, the first smartphones: cameras and color displays caused a lot of excitement. As of today, all customers expect to get these options by default in any smartphone.
To stay competitive, meet and anticipate customer expectations, companies have to keep abreast of and respond to changes in a proactive manner. Such methodologies and frameworks as Agile, Six Sigma, SCRUM, SAFe, etc. provide the required flexibility and help companies make decisions quickly. As for ICL Services, we use lean manufacturing (or simply Lean) tools and methodologies for this purpose.
Our Lean approach is based on a deep understanding of the customer needs and timely and even proactive response to requests.
How it works
Lean manufacturing tools and methodologies are changing the way the team works and helping to adopt the customer centric mindset. Lean offers to focus on getting rid of activities that do not create value for the customer. Using well-defined methodologies, the team learns how to cope faster with the changing expectations of the customer.
The new way of working entails changes that affect each employee. The team needs time to rebuild their processes and relationships and start using new tools. Therefore, we are implementing Lean in our teams in stages. First, a dedicated platform is deployed to discuss team performance. Then, we sequentially add lean manufacturing tools to this platform. In a few weeks, the team notices the first results and advantages of using the new approach. This is a good incentive to implement Lean in more complex tasks.
Let's consider the four stages that a team goes through when implementing Lean in our company.
The 1st stage: the team gets acquainted with the basic tools. Employees are imbued with ideas and get acquainted with the concept of continuous improvement. A platform is deployed to quickly diagnose the current level of team performance.
How we do it: the team allocates a certain period of time to evaluate its work, for example, an hour per week. During such meetings, the team analyzes the current situation and identifies areas for improvement. At this stage, employees talk about issues that prevent them from working productively, and then create a plan to eliminate the issues. Employees see that their problems are actually solved, and trust within the team is growing. In addition, general rules of interaction in the team are developed.
Example: the team holds one face-to-face meeting per week. Such meetings provide an opportunity for employees to express their ideas and suggestions for improvement. As a result of the first meeting, the participants formed an improvement plan, after implementation of which, the team was able to increase productivity. Employees' trust in the lean manufacturing approach increased.
The 2nd stage: the team evaluates its performance taking into account the value for the customer. The customer is in the spotlight, along with his/her needs. At this level, the requirements are transformed into indicators to be monitored by the team. The team focuses on those areas that increase customer satisfaction and gets acquainted with a comprehensive approach to problem solving.
How we do it: the team constantly monitors and anticipates customer expectations. Feedback from customers turns into new indicators of the team's performance. As a result, the team is always on the same page with its customers.
Example. During one of the meetings, the team analyzed the customer's current requests and expectations: the key point was the speed of response. It turned out that the problem was associated with the shifts overlapping. At an additional meeting, participants studied the problem in detail and revealed the root causes. They then prepared an action plan to address the causes and solve the problem. The tasks were redistributed among the employees, and a new position was introduced, which allowed to solve the problem with the shifts overlapping, reduced the load on employees and increased the quality of work.
The 3rd stage: the team introduces new Lean tools into their workflows, all activities are standardized, and processes and procedures are getting rid of inefficient steps. The areas where the team measures its performance are expanded.
How we do it: the team effectively manages its work depending on the customer's requests. All improvements are standardized, and agreements within the team are strictly complied with.
Example: the team began to systematically improve the current workflows. A dedicated working group studied one process in detail, then they removed unnecessary steps and ensured effective communications among other teams and units. As a result, they saved up to 5,000 man-hours per year within this project.
The 4th stage: the team is improving services and focuses on proactive work. The objectives are revised, and new challenges are identified. The team shifts its focus from what is already being done perfectly to what else can be improved.
How we do it: the team is ahead of the curve: the customer has not yet expressed his/her wish, but we are already implementing it.
Example. The team audited its project and began to optimize its core business processes. They began by classifying and assigning tasks to engineers. After several team meetings, new solutions were found and an action plan was prepared. As a result, the team was able to automate ticket analysis through machine learning and the subsequent assignment of task to engineers. Ticket resolution time was reduced by almost 2 times, and the customer noticed improvements very quickly. Resources that were freed up as a result of optimization were used to solve new tasks within this project.
Important considerations for implementing Lean in the teams:
- You should not expect incredible success in a short time. Staged implementation provides stable results and ensures high employee engagement.
- The active participation of managers is key to the success of the implementation of the tools. The better a manager understands the benefits of the new approach for his/her team, the faster such changes are implemented.
- The entire team is collectively responsible for improving performance, which creates an enabling environment for generating new ideas and promotes greater employee engagement.
- Lean methodologies make the work of the team more structured and allow using the best world experience and useful tools.
From the point of view of Lean, improvements do not necessarily consist in a complete revision of the team's processes. It is more important to ensure continuous improvements. Even small continuous improvements can enable teams to create a margin of safety to flexibly respond to changing reality.
We often have to question the usual approaches to work. It is unusual for a team, especially when its performance indicators are in the "green zone." However, every single day we improve our work a little bit. As a result, ICL Services is always ready for new challenges, and our team meets and even exceeds the expectations of customers.
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