Lean & Forrester’s Business Technology Forum


Well, it appears my fears have been realized.  As I mentioned in a prior post, Lean & IT, I expressed concern on how IT organizations and consultants would respond to Forrester’s declaration that Lean is “in.”  Regarding Lean, Forrester’s own blog said to, “consider it more a mindset and a culture than a guide.”  It was interesting then to receive in the mail the other day, from Forrester no less, a brochure on their Business Technology Forum 2009, with the theme, Lean: The New Business Technology Imperative.  However, it went downhill quickly from there.

I became a little concerned when I saw the picture on the cover: a man with a tape measure around his waist with the word “LEAN” repeated.  This conjures up the image of ‘trimming the fat’ or ‘cost cutting’, not a ‘mindset and culture’ as they had espoused in their blog.  My fears rang true when I read this in the introduction letter:

“Everyone wants to be Lean these days, whether it’s when stepping off a scale in the morning or when reviewing the cost of running a successful business, hence this year’s theme: “Lean: The Business Technology Imperative.”

Not deterred, I continued to read the through the brochure (wondering if it could still be useful) and came across one comment I thought made some sense:

“Lean thinking and Lean practices must affect the choices you make as a business technology leader.”

I agree with that line of thinking, but the problem is that as I continued to look at the presentations and the presenters, I did not see anything that would define what the principles of Lean thinking are, and what Lean practices would help improve an IT organization.  In fact, when looking on-line at the Bios of the presenters (all impressive), only a handful (a small one at that) had anything that would resemble ‘real world’ experience in Lean.  They all had lots of IT experience, but if I am in IT and want to learn more about how to apply Lean in IT, shouldn’t there be more emphasis on teaching the concepts of Lean thinking, and less about whether or not an IT application is Lean?

By taking this approach, Forrester is undermining the fundamental truth that Lean is a culture of the continuous pursuit of the elimination of waste in everything the organization does.  They are treating Lean as simply a set of Tools to be used.  At best, they are asking people to ‘do’ Lean without even a clear definition of what Lean is.

They are missing the point.

People are going to spend a lot of money to attend this forum, and, especially those with limited knowledge of Lean thinking will leave with a complete misperception of what Lean is all about (based on the summaries in the brochure and on-line).  Just because the “Forrester” brand is on it doesn’t mean they are experts on the topic.

Take a look for yourself (here) and see if you think it would be worth attending.

And ask yourself again, are you going to ‘do’ Lean, or are you going to ‘BE’ Lean?

Let me know your thoughts.


7 Responses to Lean & Forrester’s Business Technology Forum

  1. David Deans says:

    Glenn, I see the point that you’re making here. Not to excuse Forrester, but perhaps it helps to remember that they are primarily a market research company — and not IT practitioners.

    I recently wrote a post including the term “lean” — but, I considered that the definition might be subjective, so I included a link to the Wikipedia entry.

    I’m curious, in your opinion, is it somewhat accurate?

  2. Glenn Whitfield says:


    Took a look at the link and agree with most of it. I think they may be a little off with implying that manufacturing Value Stream Maps are all physical and tangible, when, by definition, they include information flows – but that’s kind of splitting hairs.

    I am not one who believes there is only one way to do this, and that if IT does not apply Lean principles the same way manufacturing does, then it is not Lean, however, there are some basic principles that apply universally. The main one is the understanding Lean is more than just a set of tools, and to truly implement Lean means to fundamentally change the culture of the organization, something IT shops may struggle with. It is not easy, but is worth the effort.

    Regarding Forrester – despite the fact they are a market research firm, since they do influence many IT professionals beliefs about topics, I think they should present a proper understanding of the concepts of Lean Thinking, then how it can apply in IT. After all, if you’re going to try to capitalize on the next new thing, you should at least present it properly. The problem for them is that to do that, and have organizations properly implement, takes time – a lot of time. Lean manufacturing didn’t happen overnight, and Lean IT, successful Lean IT, won’t either.

    Thanks for your comments!!


  3. Mark Graban says:

    I’ve followed Forrester off and on for about 10 years, since the time I worked for a software startup. It seemed that Forrester was more focused on trends and selling software (facilitating the vendors) as opposed to helping the users of said software. They weren’t as blatantly bad as some other “research” firms, but I’m not surprised they aren’t true lean believers.

    Rather than trying to learn from Forrester, the Lean Enterprise Institute is (and has been for 12 years) a great resource at http://www.lean.org.


    (conflict of interest statement, I started working for LEI in June but would have given that same endorsement before hand).

  4. Glenn,
    Great article. You’re spot on in regard to Lean being a cultural concept. You have to know and understand it and do as part of your core beliefs for it to be truly effective. Otherwise it will become the program du jour and focus only on the cosmetics of being Lean.


  5. Glenn Whitfield says:


    LEI is an outstanding resource and I also highly recommend them for anyone wanting to start or continue their lean journey. I just hate to see Lean portrayed in this way because that is how it gets a “bad rap” or becomes thought of as a “flavor of the month” in some organizations. Lean has come a long way – If you’re familiar with the Hype Cycle, I would say Lean has reached the “Plateau of Productivity” in manufacturing, but is still on its way to the “Peak of Expectations” in IT.

    There are some excellent organizations applying Lean in Healthcare the right way, but some are just going through the motions much in the same way Forrester is suggesting IT organizations proceed. We need to continue to educate people on what Lean really means!

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Glenn Whitfield says:


    That’s the problem with something that works but takes time – people want to take shortcuts to get the results and at the first hiccup, abandon the effort, this reinforcing the program du jour mindset you mention.

    Thanks for the comments!

  7. […] Lean approach, I like to refer to an excellent article by Glenn Whitfield, entitled "Lean & Forrester’s Business Technology Forum". But to give you a taste of what’s in store, here is the very first sentence from the […]

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