Lean IT Summit 2012 : Humility, Paradoxes and Learning

The European edition of the Lean IT Summit was held last week in Paris and this has been a good opportunity to assess where the community stands today in Lean IT implementation.

Many great speakers (Steve Bell, Dan Jones, Michael Ballé, Mike Orzen), insights from Toyota insiders (Pierre Masai or Takeshi Tanaka), some great implementation stories (Cesar Gon at CI&T, P. Lanniesse at BNP, Mark Lear at Con-way) and some interesting workshops (Antoine Contal and Regis Medina).

This has also been a time for conversations with people from the community to share the experience, the problems and some best practices. Big Up to Operae for the organisation with special tribute to Florence Preault for working tirelessly on the operational side of things to make the whole 2 day event smooth and pleasant.

#hypertextual wrap-up one click away… (You may check the #elis2012 tag on Twitter for a more comprehensive view on the conference)

Humility and discipline paradox

Probably the most common trait between all speakers have been the humility. There you have thought leaders, thinkers, people in high position in big organisations with tons of experience and yet : they concede they are still learning. Though inspiring and funny, Mike Orzen speak has been a great example of this “Be humble, concede that you don’t have all the answers and be comfortable with it. Which may be a problem for IT people as Being uncomfortable with uncertainty is something IT people are not used to : it’s either zero or one.

Humility is required to go all the way of the Lean Transformation. The old model of culture change (change the thinking to change the behavior) no longer works in such an initiative, you have to use the new model instead : change the behavior to change the thinking For me to change the thinking, I carry a A3 with me, all the time. This is where the Lean Thinking discipline paradox comes into play : to do more lean thinking you have to do less thinking and more action.

People and Transformation

‘The end objective of the Lean transformation is to transform the people. Because Operational excellence is personal excellence : we want the people to be the best they can be (Mike Orzen). Cesar Gon (We develop people prior to developing software), Michael Ballé (To make things, first make people), John Shook (quoted : No lean effort will succeed on operational side without success on social side with people working and learning together) and Pierre Masai (We want people to develop sense of achievement and self-realization as an echo to Drive by Dan Pink) all joined Mike Orzen on this aspect.

Dan Jones probably had the most inspiring one : Lean transformation is solving specific business problems by developing people capabilities to improve the flow of work (…).

People being at the heart of the initiative, Mark Lear recommended to organise Town Hall to listen to the concerns voiced by the teams regarding the transformation.  This is what they did at Con-way and it has proved key in the success of their project.

Lean and Managers

Mike Orzen (co-author of the seminal Lean IT book) identifies the following obstacles to a successful Lean transformation : promising too much and not delivering, thinking that having certifications (CMMI, ITIL, etc …) will do the trick and tool focus.

An obstacle identified by Philippe Lanniesse from BNP is the managers. This is why BNP have a specific training, consulting approach with managers as part of their lean initiative ; also they make sure managers do not strike back after the Kaizen projects (cf Leading Change step 8 : anchoring in the culture).

This is also why Mark Lear (con-way project) insisted on how important it was to sell Lean to managers because “If managers are not engaged teams will wonder why they should be”.

While introducing the workshop by Mark Lear, Mike Orzen also insisted on the role of internal Lean Coaches. These Lean coaches will help the teams drive their Kaizen projects but also to support management for them to solve people issues.

The Lean IT Paradox

While Lean insists on using Visual Management in a view to making problems visible, sharing the knowledge and walking the transparency talk regarding the status, it just occurred to me during Philippe Lanniesse very insightful (despite 1000 words slides) BNP-Paribas case study that there was some kind of paradox in Lean IT.  We are using post-its and visual boards to increase the efficiency of support teams solving their customer IT problems.

The more I think about it and the more it seems to me that these paper artifacts are the main competitors of enterprise software today.

Making things visible brings many virtues, most important one according to M. Lanniesse is that it allows teams to see what they do rather than what they think they do. Besides the BNP CIO also mention that it drives positive and quick results.

Simple & Straight-forward

This Lean IT Paradox also appeared in Takashi Tanaka speak on the Obeya[FR] topic (Why using IT? secret and there is too many data to get the latest & common information). A former Toyota Engineering employee, the Japanese Gentleman has been using Obeya to drive projects for years and he’s been advocating simplicity and a less-is-more approach throughout his speech.

Be it  indicators (Very Few quantified targets drive big companies), organisational perspective (only 3 levels : R&D Main board, project), agenda (in each obeya meeting 2 things : what i’ve done and what are my next steps ?), color code (only 2 : green and red, which means no yellow or orange), issues (every team is only entitled to bring 2 issues per meeting). In other words, if you want your Obeya to be successful, make it minimal and straightforward (Express the costs in real money as opposed to effort).

Quite frankly, I couldn’t really see the transition to the 3DS solution for digital Obeya (including PLM) that Mr Tanaka did afterwards but I may not be very neutral on this (disclosure : the company I work for is developing PLM solution).

Product Development

Michael Ballé talk has been, again, quite enthusiastic and telling. This year, the Operae Partner decided to focus on the Product Develoment and the customer value. Michael reminded us that Lean thinking has proved to be a robust management model with customer Value being number one (Value Stream, Flow, Pull and Perfection being the other four).

However seeking value is a very complicated thing to do for many reason. First because it takes learning and you learn when you realize that you’re wrong. Second because you have to be brave to go and seek the value people see in your product as it is so painful. Then because there are two levels of value : the one you see immediately and the one you see with the experience of the product. Lastly because we often get confused between feature (the tool) and function (the action).

Then you need to take very hard (make or break) decisions. Choosing the customer you want to follow and understand is one of them. Using the 5 whys to understand the root cause of the problem reported by the customer is also a great way to learn. The bad news is that they won’t be able to tell what they need (cf Steve Jobs or Henry Ford). The second big decision is choosing the Chief Engineer, i.e. the person who is the single point of decision on the project.

Leadership and Strategy : Hoshin Kanri

Cesar Gon, CTO of Ci&T, told a great story (the one of his company) to remind us how Lean is important to build a company with a purpose. Cesar has put Lean at the very heart of his company strategy applying Hoshin Kanri.

They started by developing their true North and their mission (in short : We develop people before we develop software). Then they took this into account, putting team satisfaction as part of their 4 main indicators (others being quality, customer satisfaction and productivity), 4 indicators they selected while going down from the 40+ of ITIL. From the true north and the Strategy A3, the organisation has cascaded down their yearly true north and then Mothers A3 (per Business Units and Shared areas) …

This was a great story as it has been a journey where you could see the different steps the company took in its transformation : RUP then Scrum then Lean (under the guidance of John Shooke to whom Cesar could not stop referring) and the corresponding company improvements (reducing the PDCA iterations has helped the teams to reduce 80% of the bugs found in development and 50% in UAT).

But the best part was when Cesar told that despite successful in its early days, there was still something missing in his company. This is now addressed by the company mission which gives a real purpose to him as an executive as it has been adopted by the employees.

Business Alignment

Pierre Masai (VP and CIO Toyota Motor Europe) also made a very insightful speech regarding Lean strategy providing the Toyota perspective on the subject : I don’t like when we say we have the business on one hand and then IT on the other : IT is in the business.

The role of the vision expressed by Cesar Gon also found a deep echo in Pierre’s talk : Hoshin Kanri allows us to clarify the aim of what we are doing. If an excellent IT system does not bring any business value then this is not an excellent IT system. And Pierre described how Toyota IT strategy is structured around a PDCA.

Not really new material but still priceless as it comes from the inside of an organisation applying Lean for 70 years or so. He reminded us that the whole spirit of Lean is based on 2 types of values : continuous improvement (challenge, kaizen, gemba) and respect for people (teamwork).

Problems are keys for the company to improve and Pierre insisted on Toyota having a culture where We say thank you to people reporting problems rather than to people who say everything is fine, where people are trusted to deal with their own problems before quoting Fujio Cho #hypertextual favorite. Watch out for Pierre interview soon to be published here …

This alignment issue has also been at the heart of the opening keynote by Dan Jones : Lean IT needs to explore the contributions of 3 perspectives : IT people, Lean people and the CEO using the 5 Lean principles (you should know them by now). The main discrepancy between standard IT and Lean lies in how orthogonal they may get : “Traditional management has been interested in control from the top. IT vendors gave them system for vertical communications while Lean approach fosters horizontal communications to align the work with the rate of demand”.

My take : this is where Social Software fully complements the Lean approach.

PDCA as Unit Testing for the mind

We’ve been talking a lot about PDCA all along these two days. Cesar Gon mentioned the required discipline (P and D are exciting but C and A requires discipline and follow-up : we may not do them so well which is a pity as this where we learn) but few gave such a telling metaphor as Antoine Contal during his workshop on Agile development and A3 : PDCA is like unit testing for the mind.

Together with Philippe Blayo they, in turn, gave some feedbacks on their experience of A3 in Agile software development context where iterative A3 brought them after a few iterations to some conclusion on the problem they were trying to solve.  Understanding project costs as a post mortem, solving transient problems or performance issues : in all cases A3 proved to be a great tool to fix this issue by tackling the root cause.


Steve Bell made a great conclusion to the conference doing some kind of wrap-up in his keynote. He insisted on the contribution of everyone and you could see how pleased he was before this Lean IT community he has seen growing and maturing. He took the chance to introduce some concepts of the new collaborative book project he has led (Run, Grow, Transform) where he advocates using Lean to optimise IT operations and use the saved resources to develop new solutions and innovate all the while aligning Business and IT.

An inspiring talk as usual. Somehow laid back (he conceded to me that he has made some of the slides during the 2 day event) yet completely focussed on how Lean proves to be critical in today’s economy to align IT with the business. A great way to reflect on what has been learned, what there is still to learn and also a way to look forward to the next edition.


  1. Merci de cette synthèse très riche, qui fait regretter de ne pas avoir pu y assister. Ce qui me frappe en lisant ce post c’est que désormais, quel que soit l’environnement dans lequel il est question de lean, IT, Services, Industrie, les propos sont de plus en plus semblables. Ils remontent tous à la source du “lean thinking”, parlent de management, d’attitude, de développement des personnes… C’est encourageant.
    En revanche, pour ce qui concerne le domaine IT, j’ai encore du mal à voir comment peuvent s’articuler une approche lean et certaines méthodologies IT (agile par exemple). Sur le papier cela peut marcher, mais dans la réalité, ce n’est pas si simple, comme je peux le constater parfois au travers de mes missions. J’aurai du aller sans doute au workshop d’Antoine Contal :). je vais donc essayer de me rattraper avec la vidéo quand elle sera disponible !

  2. Bonjour Anne Lise, merci pour ce commentaire. Je pense, tout comme Steve Bell ou les Poppendieck, que l’articulation entre le Lean et l’Agile est tout à fait naturel. Je parle du Lean originel celui des 5 notions (Valeurs client, Value Stream, Flux, Pull et perfection), je ne parle pas du lean 6 Sigma, ce que Michael Ballé appelle le lean productiviste, avec lequel effectivement l’alignement avec les méthodes Agile est beaucoup plus compliqué.

  3. Bonjour,
    Mon expérience de la rencontre lean/agile est plutôt inverse. En effet, je vois tout à fait la distinction entre lean originel et lean productiviste et je soutiens bien le lean originel. En revanche, je pressens qu’on trouve aussi de la méthode agile originelle et de la méthode agile productiviste (probablement pas les bons termes mais pour faire le parallèle). Du coup, quand on essaye d’articuler le lean originel et l’agile productiviste…. cela ne va pas bien ensemble et cela n’aide pas à comprendre comment ces deux démarches peuvent se combiner, voire se renforcer mutuellement.

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