Process Improvement Yields Wins, but Not Quick Ones

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I let out one of my frequent "d'uhs" when reading a recent silicon.com article. The gist of it: While improvement methodologies like lean and agile can help reduce waste in systems and software development, they won't generate those quick efficiency gains that CIOs (and especially CFOs) want because implementations tend to be lengthy and resource-intensive. Such approaches almost always also necessitate major change management.


Says Alexander Simkin, a senior analyst and process improvement in Ovum's IT Services practice:


If you're starting from a base of traditional processes, these approaches won't provide rapid cost reduction. The efficiency of your processes may even get worse before they get better. CFOs need to know that and it's a CIO's job to educate them.


Similarly, I wrote about some possible pitfalls of agile development last August, citing a CIO.com article written by a developer who relates how paying lip service to the agile methodology without committing to it can actually create added inefficiency and cost.


CIOs may realize the kind of effort that process improvement programs entail, but other executives may not. If that's the case, now is a really bad time to go along just to get along. It might be wise to wait until budgets bounce back before undertaking a major process improvement push. A caveat: Organizations with mature process improvement programs already in place will generally find it easier and more cost-effective than their peers to implement new approaches, Simkin says.


In the silicon.com article, Simkin suggests Lean Six Sigma as a good choice for companies not already well versed in process improvement and also mentions the Capability Maturity Model Interactive (CMMI) and the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 20000 as other options that can help illustrate positive results from process improvement.


Some folks I've interviewed previously, such as Mike Harris, owner and president of David Consulting Group and one of three authors of a new book titled "The Business Value of IT: Managing Risks, Optimizing Performance and Measuring Results," have promoted the idea of using multiple process improvement frameworks. Specifically, he believes most organizations will derive value from implementing three popular improvement methodologies: ITIL, COBIT and CMMI. The trick, he said, is to "take the strengths of each one and to apply them in the right way."


Six Sigma can be used to improve IT processes if the organization is using it elsewhere, opined Harris. If the business is already using it, employing the same approach in IT could help reinforce corporate culture and strengthen IT/business relations. However, if the IT organization isn't mature enough, "the focusing effect of Six Sigma may leave too many IT capability gaps," writes Harris in his book.