When Pat Quinn became VP of information systems and\n technology at Acuity Brands Lighting two years ago, his team\n gave him a welcome gift: a company-branded clock, set to count\n down a period of 18 months\u2014the longest any of his\n predecessors had lasted. The lighting division of $2.4 billion\n Acuity Brands had gone through five IT leaders in as many years\n before Quinn.Quinn now views the gag gift as a trophy. And he credits his\n relative longevity to IT\u2019s embrace of lean manufacturing\n principles.In 2004, Acuity Brands got a new CEO and a new mandate: Get\n lean. The CEO sought the benefits some manufacturers had\n gleaned from embracing lean principles\u2014business\n performance improvement tools introduced by Henry Ford and\n perfected by Toyota, designed to improve quality, cost and\n delivery in manufacturing operations.Quinn was charged with providing systems to enable the\n manufacturing changes. But as he learned more about lean tools\n and techniques for cutting waste and enabling continuous\n im\u00adprovement, he saw that IT could benefit from them as\n well. \u201cEliminating waste doesn\u2019t just apply to\n scrap metal. It can mean eliminating the waste of intellectual\n property or human resources or anything else," he says.The IT team was skeptical. "They could see how lean was\n valuable for everybody else, for manufacturing or finance or\n anyone they viewed as transactional," says Quinn. "But IT saw\n itself as creative and worried that lean would suppress that\n creativity." Quinn understood. "We're not creating widgets," he\n told his employees. "But when you create, for example, a\n software product, there\u2019s still tremendous waste. And\n creating a process framework doesn\u2019t have to depress\n creativity."IT began conducting "Kaizen events" \u2014intensive\n five-day affairs aimed at bursts of business process\n improvement\u2014that shape lean transformations. The IT team\n of 150 began to see potential efficiency and quality\n improvements in areas from software development to network\n management. Results have ranged from finally weaning the\n company off IBM mainframes in use for 20 years to transitioning\n corporate headquarters (and 175 call center agents and 25 apps)\n to VoIP in less than two months.The transition has required big changes in thinking. One lean\n event revealed that application development could be greatly\n improved with pair programming\u2014multiple programmers\n working together on code. "I thought, there\u2019s no way\n that's going to work," says Quinn, a former programmer\n himself. "But I was completely wrong."Today, the continuous improvement piece requires heavy\n training and more involvement by Quinn than he anticipated.\n "Two years in, we're at a pretty good point in the journey," he\n says. \u201cThere\u2019s no way we're there yet. But if you\n ask someone from Toyota, where they\u2019re 40 years into the\n journey, I don\u2019t think they see an end in sight\n either."