Lean IT Field Guide Summary - 2 of 2

Orzen, Michael A.; Paider, Thomas A. (2015-10-14). The Lean IT Field Guide: A Roadmap for Your Transformation 


Note: This blog post is made up of snippets of content from the book. They were my Kindle highlights. Buy the book here.

Chapter 8: Why Management Still Matters (given "self-organizing teams")

Starting your transformation with the associates but without the full support, participation, and understanding of the managers won’t work because people focus on the things their boss talks about most often. The associates are busy doing the work necessary to create value for your customers. It is your managers who should be providing both the technical backing (how to develop needed job skills, not specifically how to achieve targeted outcomes) and people development support (how to improve work processes) as they nurture and develop their teams—one person at a time.

Often it is managers (and no one else) who effectively navigate upstream and downstream channels of collaboration to coordinate work inputs and outcomes into the hands of end users and customers.

It is the managers in your organization who play a pivotal role in making a vivid connection between purpose and behavior—connecting strategy to execution. To be effective, managers must support the development of people (through problem solving, teamwork, and communication skills) along with technical support on how to do the work.


Nice quote: Empowerment is not the same thing as “go do whatever you want!” Empowerment is placing people in a position to use their own thoughtful judgment to methodically solve problems. Before you can do this, your team will need the mindset, skill set, and tool set we have been exploring throughout this book.

In order for people to want to try new things, they must feel safe and see a potential benefit to making the change. Engaging people with respect to try new things is perhaps the most supportive thing you can do as a manager. Why? Because you want them to do the thinking, the learning, the discovering, and the growing! You cannot do this for them; they must do it themselves. Mike likes to say, “Lean is not about trial and error; it’s about trial and discovery.”

Here’s the key to engaging people: When people know their opinion matters and accept ownership of their problems and solutions to those problems, they see themselves as valuable because they feel valued! When they personally align the valueadding elements of their daily work with a motivating purpose, great things begin to happen!

Go and See 

This has been a central maxim within lean for many years, but has seldom been practiced by managers. Go and See is all about visiting the gemba to understand by observing—watching people and process to stand in the shoes of the people doing the work and seeing deeply what their work experience is all about. This seems like an obvious and straightforward thing to do, but it is deceptively difficult for a number of reasons. First of all, most managers are uncomfortable going to the gemba to just watch and quickly take charge and tell people what to do. There is certainly a time and place for dialogue with your team, but initially Go and See is about observation and learning by looking and experiencing.

The Challange

To improve performance, people need a challenge—a worthy goal to aspire toward. The more we challenge ourselves and strive to achieve a goal where we do not know the solution, the greater our confidence grows as we experience success! BallĂ© breaks challenge into four steps:
  1. Define success. 
  2. Agree on the problem(s). 
  3. Agree on criteria for an acceptable solution. 
  4. Agree on an acceptable pace of progress. 
Questions to ask as a manager include: 
  • Am I challenging my people to achieve meaningful and specific goals?
  • Do team goals align with our organizational purpose?
  • Do we have clarity and agreement around the four steps?
  • How do I know if my challenge to the team is effective?

Chapter 9: Sustain Your Progress

The Lean IT Sustainability System can be divided into five parts:
  1. Accountability 
  2. Interlocking leader standard work
  3. Cadenced gemba walks 
  4. Assessment and reflection
  5. Continuous learning

Oftentimes the word accountability is seen in the negative light that someone must be punished for an action or problem. Holding someone accountable for a mistake at work may seem like the appropriate thing to do, but rarely does it solve the problem. In a lean transformation, accountability is not synonymous with blame. Accountability is the result of authentic respect for people—ensuring that the lean system continues to deliver value to our associates, customers, and stakeholders. Most often when expectations are not met, it is not something that people have done wrong; rather, it is the process and system that have caused the problem. 

Lean accountability focuses on fixing the problem—missed expectations and root causes—rather than on fixing blame for the problem. And when a problem is encountered that the team cannot solve, it is the manager’s or leader’s responsibility to escalate it to a level where it can be solved and to get an answer back to the team. Undesirable outcomes and missed expectations are opportunities to dig into the reasons why they occurred and develop countermeasures to improve. For someone to be held accountable, two things are requisite: a capable system and the skills, tools, and knowledge to adequately perform the work. Holding someone accountable for the performance of a broken system is the antithesis of respect for people.

Interlocking Standard work and Visual Accountability:





Cadenced Gemba Walks:

We are often reminded of the famous words of Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho, 3 “Go see, ask why, show respect,” as a great model of how gemba walks should work.

  1. Coaching—the act of asking why and moving toward incremental improvement is critical to coaching. Effective coaching is less about telling than it is about listening and asking effective questions. Coach for improvement, not correction. 
  2. Respect for people—simply going to the gemba and asking a bunch of questions is not respecting people. The questions must be phrased in such a way to respect the contributions of associates, build trust, and drive continuous improvement. Great coaching focuses on the process: what should be happening versus what is happening, rather than on who is to blame.
  3. Disciplined management—associates see and emulate the actions of management; if the lean system is not important enough for the management team to review and examine on a regular basis, it will soon lose importance for the associates team as well. 
The gemba walk centers on assessing the depth of engagement of the teams, the degree to which lean systems are being actively used, and opportunities for leaders and managers to support and coach.

It’s a little bit of a paradox: On the one hand, we are empowering our associates and giving them more control over their daily work and improvement of their work; on the other, we continually check and monitor the system to see if what we are expecting to happen actually is happening.

For the transformation metrics, we must focus on leading (predictive) indicators instead of the lagging indicators so often used in our organizations.

Remember the maxim that every day is an experiment; creating a culture of continuous learning is the embodiment of this principle.

Chapter 10: Strategic Alignment

It’s this deadly combination of working on the wrong things (firefighting and immediate crises) plus multitasking that cripples our ability to deliver on strategic goals. The strategic plan becomes the prioritization mechanism used to determine if the new fire should be put out or addressed at all.
Strategy deployment is typically a 1-year plan as well as a process used to distill your organization’s purpose into short-term actionable goals from which we can assign importance, responsibility, and resources, and then measure progress.

It provides four critical elements: 
  1. 1. It drives activity across silos and addresses organizational value-streamlevel improvements required to support the strategic plan. The focus is on significantly moving the needle on a few big things rather than slight improvements of many small things. 
  2. It reinforces people at all levels of the organization to actively apply PDCA thinking as the basis of all improvement work. It includes all levels of management in figuring out the how, once the organizational what has been determined. 
  3. It emphasizes a monthly review mechanism for all to see, know, and act, focusing exclusively on those things not on track and specific countermeasures to get back on course. 
  4. It creates a closed-loop feedback between organizational purpose/ strategy and daily activities at an individual, team, department, and enterprise level. Strategic planning starts before—not after—the financial budget process. 
Step 1—Develop the Plan/Create the Challenge

Leveraging the power of lean thinking and PDCA, think of strategy as a scientific hypothesis.
Whatever the organizational strategy is, the task of IT leadership is to answer the questions 
  1. “What strategy should IT deploy to support and enable the company strategy?” and 
  2. “What information and functionality need to be operational to put people in a position to successfully mobilize our company strategy?”
Step 2—Deploy the Plan: Nested Cycles of PDCA

In other words, leaders in the organization set goals and each supporting level comes up with quantifiable objectives and plans to achieve them.

Step 3—Monitor the Plan: Managing by Means

When departments and teams are engaged in ongoing two-way dialogue about implementing projects and attaining measurable objectives, the lean management system described throughout this book serves as an early warning system, detecting when barriers have been encountered and progress is not being made.

Step 4—Improve the System: Nested Subcycles of PDCA

If your teams are not engaging daily in PDCA discussions around projects and improvements directly tied to strategic goals, you can be assured there is no substantive progress being made or alignment of effort toward your strategic goals!

Daily tasks that are explicitly connected with strategy are the vital work that must be done at the highest level of performance. The degree of experimentation and adjustment in connection with this daily work indicates the commitment to excellence that people are making. This thoughtful dedication can be seen through the consistent practice of PDCA structured problem solving.

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