Lean IT and ITIL

One sees a few remarks in the webisphere that suggest folk don't get the relationship between Lean IT and ITIL (thanks to my friend Bob Grinsell, RIPOFF #1, for reminding me of this issue by his comment on the itSMF USA forum). Lean is a method. ITIL is a framework. These are different things for different purposes.

Lean is a method. It is a way of approaching ITSM (and other areas of process improvement). It explains how to go about optimising process. Other methods* are Agile, Six Sigma, OBASHI, Theory of Constraints, or CSI (or ...ahem... Tipu).

ITIL is a reference framework. It is there to compare and benchmark ourselves against so that we can decide what to improve. Best Practice is the idealised model: how the world would look with infinite time and money. As others have said before (with little effect, it seems) ITIL is not a blueprint. My personal experience is that once you understand that you get less agitated about ITIL :) So use ITIL to assess maturity against if that is what matters to you (not me, I'm more concerned about alignment to business outcomes). Or use ITIL as an input to design of practices (I do). Other reference frameworks are COBIT, ISO20000, TIPA, USMBOK, CMMI-SVC, or ITM (or ...ahem... Tipu).

So Lean and ITIL are orthogonal, which is to say they complement each other. If Lean is the best approach for you and ITIL is the best frame of reference or benchmark for you, then use both.

*I forget who it was who pointed out to me recently that "methodology" means the study of methods. This website is a methodology site, and this post is methodology. Yet another word bastardised by the IT industry.


Lean IT vs. ITIL


I don't know if many who've implemented ITIL would agree with the point that Lean IT and ITIL compliment each other. Many who have implemented ITIL concepts would argue that many aspects of ITIL are an expense (and sometimes even an endless expense) that grows over time, rather than working to make IT faster, higher quality and more cost effective so as to better serve business objectives.

The examples I get, all the time, include Configuration Management and Release Management. The argument I get is that implementing them according to, ITIL reference material, acts as significant drain on an enterprise, causing costs to rise and delivery to slow down, over time. I have yet to run across anyone that has said: "Implementing ITIL has made us leaner, faster, cheaper and better." What I do get, consistently, is that implementing ITIL helps with providing more transparency into different areas of Production Operations for organizations that don't manage transparency throughout their entire SDLC process.

However, let me say that the above is not to say that it's not possible for ITIL to make someone leaner, faster, better, cheaper. I just, personally, don't know of anyone who has made that claim, over the last 8 or 9 years of dealing with enterprises that have implemented ITIL.

Lean IT seems to be more about standardization, repeatability, simplicity, reduction of costs, etc. it's what you do to help reduce the footprint and inefficiency of those IT organizations that have grown to become large, slow, underachieving cost centers. This would mean that after you've applied those solutions to your IT organization that have made it grow into a non-performing mess, you look to things like Lean IT to help get you deal with the monster that's been created.

I guess the argument of Lean IT complimenting ITIL would be that if your enterprise implemented ITIL in a way that made it slower, fatter, more expensive, etc., you could use Lean IT to help undo the mess???

My Best,

Frank Guerino, Chairman
The International Foundation for Information Technology (IF4IT)

fat or muscle

haha I can't deny that many implementations of ITIL are made ponderous by excessive bureaucracy and Lean would help strip that away. In that sense they are indeed most complementary!

But as I often say: don't shoot the message just because the messenger delivers it badly. One criticism of ITIL is that it says little about HOW to use it. This leaves plenty of scope to use it badly. A fool with a tool is still a fool, and ITIL is just one more tool.

A second reason that ITIL increases the workload is a more valid one: ITSM improvement causes us to realise all the things that we aren't doing that we ought to be doing in order to manage risk and/or improve value. I would hope that Lean thinking wouldn't strip these out.

I guess the analogy is that ITIL can be used to add fat or muscle, but either way it is going to bulk you up. Cutting fat is good, cutting muscle less so. Be careful with the knife. Or in the case of some Lean zealots: "careful with that axe, Eugene".

I told you so - but then again...


Some years back we disagreed somewhere here on your site about the applicability of Lean within IT. Hopefully you've moved a bit because I think my view is unchanged and although I had hoped it would prove valid over time, the habit ITSM evangelists have of fitting round pegs in square holes could mean Lean IT is now the next most abused term after 'best practice'.

Lean is a way of management thinking as you suggest. It does target waste in many forms. That said, it has a totally customer centric starting point as it discusses waste from a consumer perspective, with 'value'. I see too many ITSMers jumping on the bandwagon (as I think you predicted) and not doing their homework. I also see many Leaners taking the process centric thinking used in manufacturing and failing at Leaning.

Lean has to be applied to an industry sector. In our case I proposed applying Lean to a service business and built the Lean Service Management brand on that premise (How to apply lean thinking to a service business). Its very different in many cases because we do not give a hoot about process at the outset. We focus on the customer experience interacting with services and the service organization and target 'dumb interactions'.

Yes, you could apply Lean thinking to use less electricity, bandwidth, and the like, but in the end you must take into consideration the effect of your waste removal on customer outcomes, experience and satisfaction levels. Else you are not Leaning. Eliminating waste without knowing the consequential effect on a consumer gets you where the UK National Health and others arrived - "oops" territory. Queues are shorter but more patients are dead.

So if anyone out there in ITSM, who is struggling to make their current approach to all this work and is betting on a word-replacement game and lumping Lean in to the title of their initiative - do your bookwork, get some proper training, and please - don't bother adding six-sigma in - Lean enables six-sigma, and you don't need the latter to start thinking and acting Lean. Just remember - we have a customer/consumer out there we are trying to satisfy....

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