Finding opportunities in IT
The IT world can be something of a black box for many people. There is a general recognition of its importance but often a lack of understanding of how it really operates, or how it could be improved. Increasingly however, as people become more accustomed to operating in technology driven environments, managers have started to look at IT with a more calculated view as to how to make it operate more effectively. In fact, like many other service environments, lean principles are being borrowed from the shop floor and applied to parts of the IT function, particularly those with more routine processes. IT generally consists of two main areas: application development and maintenance (the part of IT that works with other functions to develop and maintain software) and network infrastructure (the group that maintains the underlying hardware, software, resources and services that create an IT environment). Each area is quite different in design and management requirements so finding opportunity also needs to be adjusted to accommodate the different environments. We will focus on the applications side of the IT world and discuss some of the ways to look for opportunity.
If there are any recurring conflicts between operating functions and IT, it usually revolves around application development and maintenance. Applications are simply projects, so many of the same techniques used to uncover opportunities in project management environments can be applied here. Application maintenance is similar to other types of maintenance or engineering environments, where opportunities exist in understanding the true backlogs and prioritizing the assignment of work.
The common user complaints are that applications are slow to be developed, slow to be modified, and either have too little or too much functionality. Of course there are usually reciprocal complaints coming from the IT perspective. To find opportunities in this area, often the best place to start is by interviewing the user groups and understanding their perceptions of how well their requirements are being met. Some of the common opportunities we find include:
• Lack of clarity in user requirements (and unclear link to business strategy)
• Inconsistent rules for prioritization
• Insufficient “re-use”, too much re-development
• Too many user requirement changes creating rework
• Application bugs
• Change management problems in installation
As with other service functions, organizations can have real problems in this area if application development is a corporate function and its output is not owned and driven by the operations side of the business.