Lean IT: the renewal of testing practices

Lean Management, the managerial practice that originated in the automotive industry and that has spread to IT development and maintenance as Lean IT, has now appeared in testing. It’s a real innovation in this field! Lean IT has contributed to testing by saving time, creating real savings and improving the quality of processes via a management system that’s very well suited to testing, as explained by Arnaud Cailleau, Director of the Speciality Testing Line, Sopra Steria, and Jean-Luc Cossi, Lean IT Coach at Operae Partners.

Inspired by management practices implemented by Toyota to re-launch the automotive industry in the post-war years, Lean Management has evolved over fifteen years and spread to the services sector and to information technology, in particular, under the name of Lean IT. After IT operations, maintenance and development, Lean IT has now come to the world of testing.

The very first experiments in the field began a year ago at Sopra Steria in collaboration with Operae Partners. However, why is Lean IT used in testing?

Increasing client pressure

Although we can now say that testing ‘works’, not everything in the garden is rosy. Price pressure, time to market, demands for higher quality from clients. Specialists are forced to continually deploy new testing methods to increase productivity, automate tasks, save time and reduce costs. In fact, clients still expect testing professionals to lower their charges and increase flexibility.

For several years testers have been working to apply so-called ‘classic’ ways and means in order to find new productivity levers in service centres. This has involved revising quality systems processes, regular reviews and audits, improving work stations, pooling resources and even knowledge bases. This approach is no longer adequate.

The solution: to apply Lean IT to testing

Of course, these ways and means have brought about improvements, but it’s clear that they no longer allow for progress at the speed demanded by clients. For example, overall indicators are inadequate and are hard to compare from one testing project to another. A more in-depth reassessment is needed that goes beyond ways and means and that is first to be applied to teams and to management.

Lean IT is a good response to these problems and offers a real dynamic for teams. This management method provides a clear understanding of the situation of the projects concerned and, above all, it allows for rapid identification of areas for improvement and does so in a shared manner.

In concrete terms, the aim of Lean Management is to improve the operational efficiency of an organisation by ensuring the quality of operations and by training teams to make their work more visible and solve problems correctly. This creates greater involvement and heightened performance.

A management approach that’s based on two principles: respect for people and continuous improvement. It’s about getting teams to work together and supporting people so that they can find the path to success. This is done in three stages: definition of the challenge; going into the field to see how things work in practice; and promoting problem-solving by the teams themselves. It should not be done by suggesting or imposing preconceived solutions on teams, it should be done by creating the right conditions to enable them to seek the causes of the problems and test solutions that they have devised themselves.

First results spectacular

The method is particularly suited to tests because of their recurrence, their iterative nature and the notion of quality improvement, all in a context of multiple contributors. And the results are spectacular!

The manager’s view – Thanks to Lean IT we get real visibility of the work. For example, teams can explain the evolution of the indicators according to their actions and suggest new, more relevant indicators that are adapted to everyday tasks. They disseminate the approach to middle management, who are then obliged to react differently: to bear in mind autonomy, to better understand situations, to simplify decision making derived from real information in the field and not beliefs or intuition.

The team members’ view – They have become owners of their work stations, they have learned to be critical by observing what they do every day, they have implemented measurement plans and collaborated on action plans. Their work has acquired new meaning enabling them to develop their motivation and autonomy.

From an operational point of view – Some figures as an example: before Lean working, where the required improvement rate once stood at 15 %, it dropped to 1% after Lean… the rate of KO patches (rate of errors identified by the client in the patches delivered to them) fell from 23 % to 10 %. The rate of patches rejected fell from 44 % to 4 %. As for productivity, it has increased threefold!

Time, quality, image… all are affected. However, there are also unexpected results, such as a change in head of project who became almost transparent.

Lastly, the Lean IT approach doesn’t stifle initiative or innovation, quite the reverse, it promotes them. This makes it the opposite of the ‘classic’ approaches. It’s an approach that profits from being implemented across the entire testing cycle, i.e. by clients too.

The promise of Lean management is the combination of satisfaction (of clients, employees and partners) with growth (of the company and of partners). The secret of its success is in the development of individuals who are the only ones able to create better products and services.

Thus, the Lean approach enables complete client satisfaction by delivering to them a product of the utmost quality at a time when they want it. This involves eliminating the causes of variability and wastage, whilst bringing about a reduction in lead times and costs. As a whole, it enables the development of employees’ and suppliers’ skills by allowing them to solve the problems they come across every day by themselves.

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Arnaud Cailleau

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