European Lean IT Summit 2013 : Wrap-up


The European Lean IT Summit happened last week in Paris and it has yet again proved to be a great opportunity to meet the community, to listen to great case studies and to get some food for thoughts with the keynote sessions.

Already the third edition (see wrap-up from 2011 and 2012) and in my view the best so far as we can see the subject maturing and the whole community getting deeper insights on the topic. (disclaimer : It could well be that I am biased here as this year I was both speaking and part of the company organising it).

On top of the experts and leaders (Dan Jones, Steve Bell, Mike Orzen, Michael Ballé, Takashi Tanaka) there also were good talks by people from all over the world, many domains (support, service desk, development, operations, innovation) and many industries, peace nobel prize winner Grameen Foundation not being the least fascinating …

Pulling customer needs rather than pushing technical capabilities

Daniel T Jones, a Lean missionary as he defines himself, has kicked the event off in a spectacular fashion in terms of foods for thoughts. His vision of the current IT organisation, governed by Taylorist principles where we push technical capabilities, get cash from asset utilisation compliance, undergo vertical control and are led by experts was quite telling (slides).

Rather he presented a lean approach back from the customer, optimising the value stream driven by horizontal demand, an approach engaging everyone. A vision implemented by the team of Catherine Chabiron as she demonstrated in her talk (from technical push mode IT to customer / process focus pull mode IT). A vision that reflected in Steve Bell keynote as one of the « big hairy questions» the community has to work out : «How do we think from our customers’ needs backward, not from our (technical) assets forward?». Lastly, a vision which echoed nicely with the one of Jesse James Garrett, a leading figure in the UX part of the industry, which makes the whole Lean UX approach sounding even more relevant.

Lean, agile and communities to tackle extreme poverty    

The talk by Khuloud Odeh was very exciting on paper and proved to be a really moving one. Khuloud is CIO at Nobel prize winner Grameen Foundation. She explains how Steve Bell (who discussed his engagement to NGO in his #hypertextual interview) has helped the Community of Knowledge Workers in Uganda to coach farmers to share best practices and eventually double the revenue from their crops. An amazing story.

Numbers and people

The great thing about Lean IT conference is that most stories are focussed on providing bottom line figures. And these are quite spectacular. Be it the support function in the a Northern Europe IT Service company (Martin Chmelar and Tomas Turecek at Tieto), a service desk in a bank (what a fun and engaging talk by Daniel Breston !), software development and maintenance (Sudip Pal and ), a data center in a Telco company, IT at an automotive equipment supplier (Faurecia), figures always are spectacular. We are talking about doubling productivity, reducing rework by 50 or 75%, improving lead time by 30 or 40%.

This number issue what addressed by Takashi Tanaka in his keynote describing the Lean cost planning. What the sensei said : if you want to achieve some results, be aggressive on the objectives to force people to think outside the box.

These are substantial results here but the main benefits out of these (and everybody agreed on this one) is that they help people measuring what they are able to achieve and how they contribute to the organization success.

Leadership and Gemba Walks

Giuseppina Allegretti from BNL kept on insisting on this people dimension during the video interview she was kind enough to do with me (online later this month, watch this space). Most leaders talk about leadership : she practices it on a regular basis with Gemba walks. I can’t help but fully quoting one of her slide that any leader should frame in her office, a great synthesis of applied behavioral sciences to leadership : How we manage little things is how we manage big things / Reality is not always what we imagine / A long way starts with a little step / Go and See = Coaching people / Attention is the best way to care about people.

Yves Caseau also mentioned Go & See and what he has learned through it in his comprehensive (you can trust him for that) presentation of the Lean Software Factory. He answered a good question wIth humility telling he still had to learn to reach the objective. Yet, he explained how surprised his developers were when he sat next to them trying to understand how they work. This is the difficult thing with software development : the work is virtual and hidden into machines. Hence the necessity of visualising the flow and why I don’t buy into Michael Ballé statement in IT context « Visual Management to visualize problem not to visualize the flow ». As a way to devirtualize work and bring transparency, visualising the flow is a great source of engagement and team collaboration in software development.

Mike Orzen closed the conference with the final keynote on the leadership topic. Don’t get me wrong : Mike is an awesome speaker, fun and engaging, but in all fairness I found the content too generic and slightly disappointing as it could have been a keynote in any conference (leadership, change management etc …). Yet the way he delivered was incredibly engaging.

Lean for innovation

C&IT CEO Cesar Gon made a great talk last year about how the company implemented agile and then lean with stunning results. Leonardo Mattiazzi came this year to explained how they used lean approach to propel their Disrupt! initiative. The idea is to draw on disruptive innovations to get high value revenue streams and, well, change the world. How did they start ? with online communities !

Serial entrepreneur and bureaucracy fierce opponent Pierre Pezziardi made a vibrant talk on the subject with a different approach, reminding the Lean Start Up. Pierre vision is to remove bureaucracy and replace it with accountability and trust. This is how he built the start-up, a peer to peer lending platform, with excellent results.

At the intersection of Lean and Agile

In my understanding, this has been the main topic of the conference. On top of the dedicated morning panel (discussed here), we had two excellent keynotes. First by Hakan Forss who explained how he coaches agile team to implement Toyota Kata (refer to #hypertextual review of the excellent book by Mike Rother). What is quite fascinating here is how the Kata has replaced the retrospective within the team for the continuous improvement aspect.

Regis Medina talk about Lean and Agile was very inspiring. Michael Ballé has tweeted it as the best talk of the conference and it will be difficult to argue with him. First because you don’t want to argue with Michael, second because this has probably been the most enlightening talk of all, indeed. Based on his 10 year experience with agile and more than 100 iterations, Régis still wonders and asked this essential question :

« I’ve seen many average teams making significant but not spectacular results. And I’ve seen a few teams obtaining spectacular results but these teams had excellent developers. So I still don’t know if they had these results because they were great developers or because the process was good.»

Difference between lean and agile ? Régis gives it in on one slide : agile is for building software products, lean is for developing people, echoing this strong intention of Toyota Michael reminded us : we develop people before developing products.

Régis talk also shed an uncomfortable light on the one I gave together with Laurent Alt (Software R&D Director at Lectra) with another question : « Why should we force people to do agile if they don’t understand why we want to do it or how it can solve their problem ? ».

Yet, we still had a decent feedback for the session and it has proved to be an opportunity to engage in great conversations with people from the audience. So on top of Regis who questions the mere relevance of it, I would like to thank my colleagues at Operae Partners for their time and coaching during the last few weeks, in particular Sofiane Boucheikh and Christian Ignace.

Looking forward the 4th edition next year. It would be just great if we could manage not to have it on the same days as Lean Kanban France, a calendar issue that has cast a small shadow on an otherwise excellent event.


  1. Hi Cecil,

    thanks for this summary. The event was very rich, with many points of view, and it showed that beyond well known lean principles, there are many ways to make it happen. It is a lot about the people.

    I was surprised by debates on agile and Lean. Several speakers said that they often saw agilists as people who focused on the agile ceremonials rather than on the goal. Since the speakers are also often consultants, this is certainly what they see in real life, so I am not in a position of denying it, but it surprises me. It means that agilists forget the goal of agile, which to me, is not only to do scrums or sprints.

    Personally, I very much see agile as the embodiment of Lean in the context of software, which is a discipline with lots of uncertainties, misunderstandings, and entangled topics.

    Anyway, this topic deserves some thinking.

  2. Hi Laurent,

    Thanks for your comment. As for Lean and Agile, I share the opinion of many of the panelists or company like CI&T and believe that Lean scope is much broader. This is why we usd it to scale agile to the whole organisation while focussing on the full value stream. Another reason tat Regis Medina and Michael Ballé both explained very well : Agile is about developing software products, while Lean is about developing people.

    I strongly recommend you the article about the Lean and Agile panel and also to watch this space : I’ll soon publish the video interview of Leonard Mattiazzi (VP executive in a 1700 people global software services company) which is quite enlightening in that respect.


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