Home > Agile and Lean, Sami Lilja, Systems Thinking > What if supermarket would be organized like an IT department?

What if supermarket would be organized like an IT department?

Imagine a supermarket. You visit there daily or weekly, buy food and beverages and other things you need in your life. The shop has a purpose for you. You probably visit the same store every time, maybe it is convenient or has the right selection or least queues.

What if supermarkets would be organized like knowledge work?

This is what happens.

The items still remain on shelves, that is a proven best practice, and you pick them to your cart. You arrive at the checkout counters and empty your cart on the belts: dairy products on belt #1, vegetables and fruits on belt #2, candy on belt #5, cigarettes on belt #11 and finally washing powder all the way at the end on belt #21.

You move on the other side of the checkout counters to wait for your purchases. A gentleman next to you holds a box of chocolate and tells you he only waits for his toothpaste to leave. A lady walks out of the door, lucky one, she only came for a loaf of bread and she got it through before the counter was closed and resources were moved to dairy line to handle the queue.

When you pack the groceries and are about to leave, you see shop personnel gathering together on the other side of the counters. They look worried at the queues and start franticly moving check-out personnel from a belt to another. Some employees are filling in the shelves, they move next to queues and start counting how many people are waiting, reporting that number to shop manager.

Next weeks things seem to have changed. Belts are now moving 10% faster to increase throughput and check-out personnel is standing so they can move items faster through the scanner. Everyone has also been to “Smile to Customers”-training, queue managers have taken 3-day Queue Management workshop and shop manager organized a well-being day for everyone because employees were feeling bad at work. “Cigarettes” belt is combined with “Diapers”, because both lines had sometimes <100% utilization.

Sounds too far fetched? Nobody would be that stupid!

Yet that is the way we organize most of our IT services and SW product development. We create competency silos and integrate very late. We split customer need into small tasks and make sure the tasks move fast. We use Scrum and Kanban and whatnot to make sure things proceed swiftly. We put time and effort to discuss about queues and make organization changes to balance workload.

But, hey, IT work is knowledge work and hence more complex than working at a check-out register at local shop? Yes, exactly. And therefore people doing knowledge work should pay even more attention to flow, customer value and getting things truly done. Instead of splitting work and managing resources, we should manage work and let people organize around the flow.

Next time you go to you local supermarket, think about how cool it would be to get your IT service out equally fast!

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