Monday, January 22, 2018

Software is Eating the World – What’s It Mean for Lean/CI?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Hard to argue with this strong statement. Is there any major organization nowadays that is not an IT organization?

ING Bank, famously, has more IT professionals than Google. Today a Tesla car has more lines of code than macOS or the Windows Vista operation system.

What’s all this mean for the Lean/Continuous Improvement ‘movement’?

Lean/CI practitioners need to raise their games. We have to learn the language, technology and mental models of the digital world.

We have to reach out to our IT colleagues and help them deepen their practice, as they deepen ours.

Lean/CI has had a strong run these past two decades. Most major corporations now in most industries have active Lean/CI ‘programs.’

True, there are still comparatively few brilliant Lean organizations, and most senior executives still don’t understand the methods or the underlying mindsets.

But the Lean/CI tide has lifted most ships, and core concepts such as Value, Waste, Flow and PDCA are firmly rooted in contemporary business practice.

But it’s not enough. Lean/CI has much to offer the digital world. Digitization is an inherently abstract process. Bits & bytes are invisible, as are the circuits that animate a printed circuit board.

The more abstract a practice or technology, the more essential is a counter-balancing engagement with the physical world.

At its best, Lean/CI is simple & concrete. Our old Toyota senseis taught us to continually refine our thinking & processes by removing the unnecessary.

After a while it becomes second nature. Steve Jobs, famously, learned the art of design by studying Japanese calligraphy.

Strategy, problem solving, ideation, rapid experimentation and other core Lean/CI practices require a fluid back & forth between the worlds of reflection & experience.

We go see, reflect on what we saw, and go see again. Such core Lean/CI practices and mindsets can help to enable, focus and refine digitization.

But we have to be humble and open enough to accept that the world is changing very quickly. And we have to work very hard to understand the language, mental models & technology of our colleagues in the digital world.

Good learning, all.

Best regards,


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