How car manufacturing helped establish Lean IT in the travel industry

Daniel Batchelor

Global Head of Corporate Communications, Amadeus IT Group

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Lean IT differs from that of lean manufacturing, though the revolution in vehicle assembly some 30 years ago still holds relevance for lean strategies in IT today.




The constant improvement of Toyota

In the 1980s, Toyota led the way in the transformation of automobile manufacturing by constantly refining its regime of product and process improvement. They engaged in a continuous drive to improve processes. In assembling components, it eliminated inefficiency, waste, bottlenecks, and as much inventory as possible, thereby eliminating defects from finished products.

Toyota along with other Japanese car firms attacked corporate silos and the atomized competences that went with them. They formed multidisciplinary teams of engineers and production workers that worked across silos and fused together varied skills – not only on the assembly line, but also in new product development. The new streamlined arrangements of the Japanese carmakers gave rise to the phrase ‘lean’. The idea was to dramatically cut costs, shorten the time it took to bring new products to market, and raise profits. The effect in practice was to cause consternation among Western carmakers – until they adopted lean techniques themselves.

The focus on what customers wanted was codified in a bestselling bookLean thinking, which popularised the terms ‘lean’ and notable suggested how the travel sector could cut delays and queues for passengers.

Lean IT in the travel industry

For the travel industry, leanness begins with front-line, customer-facing human beings – their brains and their morale. What counts is the ability of staff always to add to customer value – by accurately sensing what the customer’s true purpose is, and anticipating and responding to that purpose in a rapid and supple manner.

Lean IT, a human creation, is no technical matter. It is about inverting organizational hierarchies – recreating middle and senior management as a support for the cross-functional operational teams that are at the sharp end of customer pressure.

It is frontline employees who make the critical choices that determine whether the customer experience is unimpeded or exasperating. Lean services and Lean IT mean what Wolfgang Krips, Amadeus executive vice president of Global Operations, describes as ‘putting the power to make decisions where the work is, and where it can be improved’.

For more insights on the application of Lean IT in the travel industry – download a full copy of ourCleared for take-off paper.