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How to use Kaizen events to drive lean IT, continuous improvement

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Sean Goss, Manager, Center for Technology Services Process Improvement, Cable One

A couple of years ago, Cable One decided to improve our onboarding process for new hires. It was taking up to three days to issue laptops to new associates and provide access to our company's network, email, and benefits website. That meant new associates weren't able to get any work done for most of a week.

So we initiated a Kaizen event. This means bringing a group of folks together to focus on improving a particular process. We gathered 15 people from various departments, including HR, payroll, IT, and facilities, so we could see what roles these groups played in the onboarding process.

Within 60 days, we had implemented five of the six key improvements we devised during the event, allowing new associates to receive their computers and have access to everything they needed to get right to work on day one.

This marked the start of Cable One's lean movement, and Kaizen events became an important part of that journey. Using lean IT tools, we significantly increased the quality of service we provided and improved overall customer satisfaction for our users.

Here's how we used Kaizen events to reduce demand for customer and IT labor, and to improve our service and delivery uptime. 

The Forrester Wave: Continuous Delivery and Release Automation

Embracing lean IT and Kaizen

We first decided to embrace lean IT and Kaizen in 2016; our IT leadership was looking for a way to provide higher-quality services to our internal customers in different business groups. These included our contact centers, sales and marketing, accounting, and HR organizations.

The executives knew that increasing the quality of our services to our internal customers would help them improve the experience of customers outside of Cable One.

Lean IT had all the tools that we needed to help us succeed. But it wasn't going to happen overnight, because lean IT required a culture change.

We began by focusing on getting our IT managers trained in lean IT. In 2017, we continued with training for our IT leadership team and associates, and set a goal to align ourselves with our business partners.

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That was when my role—manager of the center for technology services and continuous process improvement—was created. At that time we came up with vision and mission statements and set goals as to what we wanted to accomplish.

We partnered with Pink Elephant, and throughout that year we ensured that our IT associates were trained in lean IT. Pink Elephant came onsite three times that year to conduct lean IT training for new associates.

The importance of visual management

In addition, we implemented visual management across IT—that is, Kanban boards or something like them. All of the teams within IT had some sort of visual management. They were using whiteboards; the IT teams held standup meetings in the morning to go over their improvementboards.

For example, the web development team and our application engineering team had standup meetings each morning and used improvement boards to see how they were doing. They determined, for instance, whether they were having any roadblocks and, if so, how they could address them. All of our IT teams had similar meetings.

We also created an interdepartmental improvement board, which we used to take in improvement ideas. We created a huge whiteboard, and encouraged our associates to write their ideas on sticky notes and put them on it. In 2018, we replaced all of our physical whiteboards with electronic boards.

We also established a Kaizen governance process to review those improvement ideas on a monthly basis, and to prioritize them. We decided whether a suggestion was something we could do as a team, if we needed to have a large Kaizen event, or if it was something that wasn't possible to do. In that case we eliminated it all together.

[ Report: The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Service Management 2018 ]

Creating leader-standard work for IT Ops

We also established leader-standard work for IT operations management. As part of Kaizen training, you talk about leader-standard work, which is basically a top-down management style. For example, if your vice president is focusing on the most important things, that filters down to the director, then the manager, and finally the associates.

We established that on the operations side of our IT department. So our director focused on certain tasks that were very important to our customers, and in turn all of the managers who worked under him established the same goals and priorities. Then we encouraged our associates to focus on those exact same goals. That way we were all aligned in servicing our customers as best we could.

During 2017, we completed three group Kaizen events—the larger events where we had representatives from various departments within the organization come together to focus on one process improvement idea. We were just getting our feet wet, so we limited it to three events that year.

We also completed 10 point-team Kaizen events. These smaller events can be handled and managed within a team, without representation from other groups. And we expanded lean training outside of IT to the product side, to people on the engineering side who were responsible for our cable plant, as well as to people from HR and our network operations center.

Producing improvements

In 2018, we were more focused on process improvements. We completed 11 smaller team Kaizen events, trained 39 technology associates in lean IT foundations, and trained 12 technology associates in lean IT, Kaizen, and leadership. Six of our technology managers, including a director, also attended DevOps training.

The Kaizen events have produced substantial improvements for Cable One, including:

  • 100% increase in internal customer satisfaction
  • 160% increase in IT associate satisfaction
  • 64% improvement in uptime
  • Savings to IT and the company by reducing the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs)

After the improvements we put in place, it took fewer IT employees to perform various processes. We reduced the demand for FTEs in the IT organization from 5.5 to 2.6—around a 53% savings. And we refocused the approximately three remaining FTEs in IT to doing value-added and necessary non-value-added work.

Try Kaizen: It works

One of the takeaways is that Kaizen events truly do work. When you bring individuals together from different groups or backgrounds to work on a single improvement, it can yield significant benefit.

Typically, we each come into the event with our own piece of the puzzle and we're focused on what we do as part of this process. However, when you see how it relates to everybody else, you have a better understanding of what they do, and that encourages everyone to work together to improve the process.

Kaizen events also help you value everyone's experience and input. A big part of lean IT is respect for everyone, so encouraging everyone to contribute to the improvement is a big part of it.

Kaizens let you enhance the improvement process because you bring different folks together. We try to empower our IT associates to come up with new ideas to help with improvements. Empowering your associates, being respectful to people, and valuing everyone's input are all key pieces.

For more on how Cable One achieved continuous process improvement, come see my talk, "The amazing effectiveness of a successful Kaizen event," at the Pink19 conference, which takes place from February 17-20 in Las Vegas, Nevada. My session starts on February 19 at 2:15 PM.

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