Lean Technology



Lean

adjective

  • Characterised by economy (as of style, expression or operation)

Technology represents one of the four fundamental building blocks of a successful Integrated Operations (IO) programme.  Through technology services, individuals are provided with access to the right information to enable the best possible decision to be undertaken.

However, one of the fundamental concerns which we deal with on a daily basis is based around assumptions that implementing an IO capability requires significant budget and effort to be expended on Technology.  To make matters worse, key stakeholders are often confused when presented with an IO technology cost significantly greater than the combined costs of all other building block elements.  This leaves them asking “Does my Project Team really understand that this is a Leadership and culture project?”  In our experience, primary drivers for increasing the Technology costs of an IO project outside of the basic business requirements include:

  • A perceived need to have a “state of the art” facility, as part of maintaining or displaying competitive advantage, or as a key recruitment tool
  • Execution of a “big bang” relocation and implementation of real time control functions into a centralised facility, driving the need for significant and unplanned improvements in technology connectivity to the field that need to be borne early in the project
  • Utilisation of the IO project as a “catchall” to solve existing Technology Issues
  • A lack of formal approach to managing operational risk, driving a significant investment in redundancy
  • Disconnection between the Operating and Information Technology groups which drives significant duplication of physical services

Whilst many IO projects have been deployed with significant Technology and Facilities investment, this doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – be the default approach to every IO deployment.  At Global IO, we focus on driving a “rightsized” Technology outcome through the adoption and promotion of a Lean Technology culture within the project team.

Introducing Lean Technology

We find ourselves talking a lot about the concepts of Lean Technology – where we look to develop an approach to Technology Development and Operations that embraces the key concepts of Lean manufacturing.  Specifically applied to Technology this encompasses:

  1. Clarity of vision: Ensuring that all members of the team understand what it is we are setting out to achieve. Confusion will reign in a project where the team members are confused regarding the overall strategic objective that they are reaching for. If the team is confused regarding what problem it should be fixing, there will be a definite tendency to over-engineer the solution.  “Drift” will also occur between the vision and the solution, creating a real risk of costly last minute changes or long term inefficiencies in Operations.
  2. Striving for Continuous Improvement: The team must always be focused on providing the best possible outcome for the business. Blending an unrelenting focus on the overall strategic vision and continuous improvement will determine where the team should be focusing effort on providing the greatest value to the organisation.
  3. Going to the Source: Technology teams are too often kept at arm’s length from the Business.  Whilst this practice has probably originated due to a few bad experiences on Technology projects in the past, the transformative nature of an IO programme requires close, albeit moderated, engagement with the business.  Without an effective and responsive Technology team, it will be impossible to provide the required context to support optimal decision making.
  4. Working as a team: Operational and Information Technology capabilities are often kept separate within and organisation. However, the effective implementation of an IO Technology approach needs to encompass solution thinking from a sensor in the field, right through to the organisation’s enterprise sales and marketing systems.  For a suitable technology solution to be provided, there is an absolute requirement to bring together a multi-disciplinary and highly skilled team that is capable of working and balancing the requirements, constraints and tensions at all these levels.

Does Lean Technology = Cheap Technology?

Absolutely not – deploying a Lean Technology approach is about providing a fit for purpose Technology solution within your IO project.  Adopting a “goldilocks approach” ensures that you don’t end up executing too much or too little Technology transformation in support of your business transformation.

Ultimately, depending on the strategic vision for IO, it could well be that there is a requirement for a significant Technology investment.  If a key objective of the IO programme is to create a state of the art facility to act as a key recruitment tool then there will likely be a requirement for above-baseline Technology investment.  However, adopting a Lean Technology approach will ensure that your Technology team and the Business understand the key assumptions and constraints that drive the associated Technology estimate.

Ultimately, a Lean Technology approach will enable your Technology teams to effectively evaluate and even “say no” to requests for change or capabilities which do not align with the vision of the IO programme.  This ability to understand and show insight into the relationship between Technology investment and IO vision is absolutely critical to ensuring that “capability bloat”, and its associated project and operational costs, is kept to a minimum.

What does this mean for my IO Programme?

Executing a Lean Technology approach within an IO programme empowers your technology leaders to ask the right questions and provide a fit for purpose technology solution. We know that Technology plays a major role in providing the context required to support decision making activities.  We also know that every IO programme sets out to unlock value in different ways for different organisations.  Therefore, there are no “hard and fast” rules about what is right or wrong for Technology in an IO implementation.  Instead, like IO itself, we must look to develop the right culture within the Technology team to ensure a stringent focus on delivering absolutely everything required to maximise value, and nothing more.  This should in-turn manifest itself through the interactions with the Technology team.  The following table takes our previously identified examples of cost drivers within an IO programme and describes how a Lean Technology group would look to address them.

 

Cost is being driven by… A Lean Technology group would…
A perceived need to have a “state of the art” facility Work with business stakeholders to understand their expectations of a “state of the art” facility, which may be more related to fitout than technology services
Execution of a “big bang” relocation and implementation of “real-time” control functions into a centralised facility Float / Investigate the opportunity to stage the project so that higher level investment areas occur later and are funded by early wins.

Alternatively, centralisation of functions on a production site could also be investigated, depending on overall Strategic Vision

Utilisation of the IO project as a “catchall” to solve existing Technology Issues Leverage their knowledge of the overall vision, and engagement with the business, to determine if a work request is directly related to scope.  If not, the project could elect to “say no”, or develop an alternative approach (dual-funded, operationally funded but project executed etc.)
A lack of formal approach to managing operational risk Engage with the business to understand key personnel and supply chain constraints and how these relate to “permanently” lost opportunities, and focus initial business recovery requirements in these areas
Disconnection between the Operating and Information Technology groups Manage internally as part of the Technology group, with a significant team building focus in the early project days to create and support effective multi-disciplinary problems solving norms

Conclusion

Taking on the concept of Lean Technology as part of your IO programme is key to managing both the cost and complexity of your Technology solution.  Whilst large Technology budgets are appropriate for some specific situations, they are definitely not required to unlock many of the benefits delivered from an IO approach to business.

Most importantly, if your Technology team is well integrated with your overall programme of work, they understand the overall strategic vision of the IO programme and have the right multi-disciplinary balance then you will definitely achieve fit for purpose technology services.  Too many times we have seen Technology delivered at arm’s length to the Operational requirements, with the associate clean-up within Operations that often takes years to complete – a situation which must be avoided for success in IO.

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