The Standard Work of IT

By Steve Brunker, CIO, LSI Industries

There’s an old axiom in IT that applies to the wide variety of projects we’re called to work on. It goes, “You can have it fast. You can have it cheap. You can have it solid. Pick two.” Despite the axiom’s demand, our business partners increasingly require that we maximize all three and we all strive to deliver on that expectation. The reality is that with limited budgets, aggressive schedules and the ever-increasing need for features and functionality, something has to give.

Unfortunately, for many companies the element that gets the short straw is “solid”, or in other words, “quality”. It’s usually the less apparent choice to the business since budgets are normally fixed and deadlines highly visible. These companies do the best they can quality-wise with the funding and timing they’re dealt.

There are numerous tools and approaches to improving quality within IT deliverables. Among them is the use of “Standard Work” (SW). The idea is to document consistent and repeatable standards for the many different aspects of IT work. The consistency leads to IT being less of an art and more of a science when it comes to implementing. While creativity may be fun, consistency is what makes systems perform smoothly and predictably. The documentation allows people within the IT team (and beyond) see and apply the knowledge that went into establishing the consistent method.

For the technologies IT proposes and supports, SW means that there are consistent and interoperable components. IT establishes the guidelines for what technologies can be expected to interact well, and leads the business to select those. IT documents how the components that are known to work well together (i.e. “supported”) need to be set up. They are then responsible for exploring new components or new combinations of components to confirm functionality.

Depending on the size of the company and the circumstances, some of the research and development work to establish supported technologies can be delegated. Many smaller organizations rely on vendor-published compatibility listings to reduce the scope of what they need to examine separately.

With SW for technologies established, the next focus is on processes. Many of the service deliverables of IT can be described as processes. Documenting these enables the IT team to better communicate and align its deliverables. It also provides a useful tool to evaluate processes for inefficiencies or errors that affect quality.

When it comes to people, SW means having team members that understand their roles. In order for that to happen, the roles must be defined and communicated. Through this, the proper team members can be called upon by the business at the appropriate times. Team members can share and cross-pollinate their roles to make the organization more resilient and robust.

Establishing standard work for these aspects of IT provides the foundation for continuous improvement initiatives. Such initiatives can be focused on particular project or component, or can be more broadly applied to a collection of components or processes.

The end result of applying standard work to the people processes and technology of IT will be to establish more consistent and predictable results. This in turn will build trust and confidence within the business about IT and their deliverables. Applying the concept of standard work within IT should allow the business to stay focused on the cost and timing elements of the axiom because IT has built a “solid” foundation from the beginning.

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