The way that most organizations run and manage their IT Operations is unscientific and somewhat random. This leads to overstaffing, poor performance, uncertain customer experience and unpredictability of delivery. It is worth comparing the way that IT Operations is organized with the older, more scientific and mature manufacturing industry.
The Industrial Revolution started in England in earnest around 1780 or so with machine based manufacture of textiles but according to historian Lewis Mumford it had its origins in the early Middle Ages. He explains that the model for standardised mass production was the printing press, introduced in 1440.
The success of the Industrial Revolution had at it’s core increased labor productivity driven by repeatability and automation. The canal and railway network in England enabled these mass produced items to be rapidly and cheaply distributed throughout the country and onwards to the entire known world via England’s massive merchant navy. The market size for these mass produced artifacts grew out of all recognition and made it a virtuous cycle to continue to drive productivity and automation.
Manufacturers moved from craft workshop (blacksmith, homespun) based methods, where each component was hand crafted and fitted together (and as a result each was slightly different) towards batch flow production where each component was, of necessity, identical and interchangeable. Manufacturers made significant investments in automation to drive productivity and reduce costs.
Manufacturing has had many centuries to develop and mature processes and management techniques that deliver low cost and repeatable outcomes that are able to delight customers. There are many professional qualifications in manufacturing and production that teach the scientific approach as well as generations of experience. In contrast IT Operations is the new kid on the block and is often characterized by immature processes and management techniques, that are expensive and not repeatable. Unfortunately we in IT, too often disappoint our customers.
I believe that many lessons can be learnt from our manufacturing colleagues and that we can copy their methodologies and way of working.
I would argue that most IT Operations folks are still working in craft workshop mode and that they could gain massive benefits from changing to batch flow mass production techniques. So lets look at the basics for efficient production:
- Standardization - the rule of one
- Standardized Processes for delivery
- Quality management and controls
- Automation to replace and reduce labor
- Mass customization
- Division of labor
- Reduced Inventory
- Maximizing utilization of mechanization and machinery
- Continuous improvement
It is important to recognize that these work together to deliver value. Standardization will not be very helpful without automation and automation ineffective without standardization. Automation without quality controls just produces a mess faster. Division of labor thrives on automation and standardized processes.
Some good starts have been made with standard IT process frameworks such as IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) that can address quality and continuous improvement, it is in pulling it all together in a meaningful and structured way that we still have much to learn from our manufacturing colleagues.