A case study of lean software practices in an IT application support department




Ren, Xiaofei, M.S. in Engineering

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The concept of lean manufacturing was formed at Toyota by Taiichi Ohno, who originated the system of “Just-in-Time” production with the goals of delivering high value and cutting down waste. These concepts were partially adapted to software development in an Agile development context [1] where the goal is to deliver value to the customers more quickly by eliminating waste and improving quality. However, we are not aware of any published attempt to adapt lean principles to IT maintenance work. The purpose of the case study reported here is to demonstrate that the principles of lean software development could be effectively applied to a specific IT application support department. It is an empirical study of lean practices in the maintenance department of a large organization. A comparison was made from the collected data from our release management tool before and after applying the lean principles to our IT group. Our analysis shows that the lean principles improved the developers’ focus on the given corrective or preventive task. Application quality also improved to a significant extent. More importantly, our customers did see more efficient support efforts that delivered good quality in a shorter time. All in all, the newly conceived support process adapting lean principles to our situation did, in fact, deliver more highly valued software to our customers more quickly while cutting down waste. On the other hand, we also learned that there were some challenges that arose from a conflict between the new lean practices and our previous practices. The most significant of these conflicts was revealed in developer work load imbalances and customer confusion due to having to communicate with different IT support teams for different type of maintenance requests. A future adjustment of how the lean principles can be applied to IT maintenance may be necessary.


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