Yesterday, after finishing up a meeting at a coffee shop, I happened to overhear two people talking about IT automation. I wasn’t eavesdropping, one of the men was so adamant in his “they don’t get automation” tirade, I am sure half of the people in the coffee shop did as well.
“Sorry *you* don’t get it, it’s about elimination, not automation”, is what I wanted to say. I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, where appropriate, automation is a good thing, but it begs a *bigger* question: why? This is a good time to pull out the “5 Whys” from our Lean toolkit, which originated with the Toyota Production System. It’s *really* simple, just ask ‘why?’ five times.
The 5 Why’s is a simple, but not easy, tool to use to get to a root cause. You start by asking “why are we doing x”, wait for a response, to which you respond with a “why?”, followed by a response. This iterates for three more cycles of “why?” followed by responses – you know, like a 5-year-old.
What is the first “why” we should be asking? If you said “why are we automating?”, you’d be wrong. The correct answer is…..
“Why are we doing this at all, is this a value add activity?”
Value add means – is the customer willing to pay for this? It’s time to be brutally honest here, and it’s especially difficult for Corporate America’s IT organizations to answer. They are far too separated from the customer. I would venture the response to this question is something along the lines of “this is how we do that” or “it says in our process document”.
At this point, we start to get into institutional disfunction, and culture problems (which often manifest themselves as technical debt). This process needs to be honest, candid, and without political motivation. Tough to do in Corporate America, but many companies have implemented Lean, why shouldn’t IT be the same?
You’ve got 3 more “whys” to ask… If, at the end of each of these 5 whys, you don’t receive responses that indicate there are good reasons to be performing an activity, you shouldn’t be doing it. Activities that aren’t value-added should be eliminated.
What does this typically say about IT Operations? What activities in your development team and process are value-added?
Even in startup companies, what features of your product are value-add? The highest value-added should really be what your MVP is about. The lowest, don’t do them.
Eliminate where possible, automate if you can’t eliminate.