What Assembly Lines Teach Us About Identity Management

by | Dec 8, 2021

You might think manufacturing and IT have limited overlap, but there is a lot that can be learned by comparing them. In the book The Goal, written by Eliyahu Goldratt, a fictitious senior manager attempts to salvage a failing manufacturing plant. The principles the main character learns can be applied directly to identity management (IDM).

Resolving Bottlenecks

In business, a bottleneck is easy to understand but is often too abstract to extract actionable principles from. In manufacturing, it is far simpler to understand.

A core concept in The Goal is that value isn’t realized until the product is in the hands of the customer. The work to create a widget at a manufacturing company has no value until someone purchases it. The same is true of identity management. Any piece of functionality designed to introduce efficiencies or improve security posture has no organizational value until it is in production. You might have engineers that can turn around work quickly, but that value is misleading if it then takes weeks or months before it is deployed to production.

How can you increase throughput?

The key is to focus all efforts of efficiencies on bottlenecks. Tread carefully—this concept is often executed incorrectly. Here is a thought experiment to highlight the concept:

Let’s say we are looking to set up single sign-on (SSO) for 20 applications. In this scenario, we have a highly-skilled engineer but all of the application owners are busy and hard to get time with. Breaking down the IAM process as an assembly line, it would look like:

1. Engineer – Designs Technical Docs
2. Application Owner – Approves Design
3. Engineer – Develops and tests functionality
4. Application Owner – Approves functionality
5. Engineer – Deploys SSO configuration

The question to highlight the concept of the critical nature of bottlenecks is to think about this:

If the engineer can complete tasks 50% faster with a small investment, should the organization invest?

If the engineer can’t easily switch tasks and derive value from other projects, then the answer is no. The reason is the application owners are the bottlenecks. Any investment in efficiencies to a non-bottleneck process like the engineer has no impact on throughput.

Key Takeaways

The only method to increase IAM throughput is to work on bottleneck efficiencies.

An IAM program focusing on bottlenecks and understanding the flow from start to deployment can make a big impact on delivering value to the business. It will introduce new avenues to challenge processes that can lead to real improvements.

Bust Bottlenecks with IDM by GCA

Of all the disciplines within identity and access management, IDM has the broadest application. The identity management software available from Okta, SailPoint or MicroFocus offers an endless list of initiatives to pursue.