Lean Six Sigma for information technology (IT) is still maturing and has not hit the critical mass to transform the industry to its next level, as it has in other industries in the past 10 years. This may be due in part to common myths about Lean Six Sigma for IT. These myths include:
These myths can be damaging to the prospects of using Lean Six Sigma in IT, and practitioners must learn the truth in order to improve the chances of success with the method.
Lean Six Sigma practitioners in the IT industry need to look inward to keep application of the method simple and relevant. Looking inward means focusing on the traditional principles of Lean Six Sigma:
These three characteristics should be the basis of the vision for a Lean Six Sigma deployment, irrespective of the target industry domains – and IT is no exception.
There are quite a few variants in IT deployment areas, from technology and product innovators to custom software solution providers to the technology wing of a multinational operation. Hence there are many complex organizational parameters that need to be handled when it comes to deployment of Lean Six Sigma. Trying the right projects at the right organizational maturity level is the key to success.
Typically, Lean Six Sigma is deployed in one of three ways: top down, middle out or bottom up. Each approach has its own strengths and shortfalls. As the culture matures, the approach must mature along with it. Therefore, an effective phased deployment model is needed (see figure below).
The following are the three phases of this deployment model:
Like deployment models, there are also various tactical project selection approaches for IT firms:
1. No Lean, Little Six Sigma
This approach is about reaping the lowest hanging fruit. Practitioners collect product performance and defect data, perform simple Pareto analysis and create fishbone diagrams. From a vital few x’s they move to a solution set and pilot an improvement. This lightweight DMAIC is best used during Phase 1 to win confidence and increase the comfort factor around Lean Six Sigma.
2. All Lean, Little Six Sigma
Here practitioners stress improvement of visible problems based on Lean thinking . With this approach, the seven types of Lean wastes are introduced. The quality issues addressed may relate to flow or speed, for example, in transactional software processes as well as software engineering.
A Lean thinker should ask basic questions, such as How many of the software design stages add real value to the customer? Where is the maximum lead time? Where is the weakest link in the chain? An FMEA can do wonders, surfacing hidden design issues and saving a business from enormous risk exposure. For that matter, practitioners should try applying Lean concepts to a simple C code by acquiring the high level design and the flow diagram, and asking value stream questions.
3. All Lean, All Six Sigma
This method involves leveraging Six Sigma to find hidden problems, applying core statistics and using design of experiments (DOE). The best thing about software is, without much cost, practitioners easily can experiment and find the optimum level of various controllable factors in computer programs. Today, in the age of object-oriented analysis and design service-oriented architecture, almost every product feature is configurable or tweakable. Hence, the more complicated Six Sigma tools are all applicable to software projects. Some sample project areas and the tools used are:
The table below is a recommended deployment matrix that has the highest probability of success, irrespective of organizational culture and environment.
|Mix of Project Types Across Deployment Phases|
|Project Categories||Strategic Deployment Phases|
|Project selection||Practice or application||Middle out||Move to top||Top down|
|No Lean, Little Six Sigma||Kaizen or root cause analysis work outs||80 percent||40 percent||30 percent|
|All Lean, Little Six Sigma||Development process and technology, Lean thinking||20 percent||50 percent||30 percent|
|All Lean, All Six Sigma||Advanced Lean six Sigma to address hidden variation||N/A||10 percent||40 percent|
|*Percent figures refer to the percent of projects delivered in each category|
Lean Six Sigma in IT should no longer be a myth. It can be as successful in the IT domain as in any other. Practitioners need to not only be careful about using the best fit deployment model alongside appropriate project selection, but also to come forward to share their success stories (and failures) with each other. This will help to transform the use of Lean Six Sigma in the IT world.