Case Study: Process Improvement for Micron Technology, Inc. – Turning the Asset Disposal Process into Treasure

By David Walters

Disposal Management: Trash or Treasure Depending on Perspective

The risks of not properly disposing of IT Assets Have been documented for years. Most organizations, at some level, are aware of environment, regulatory and security risks associated with the decommissioning and disposal of excess computer equipment. So why do so many enterprises continually failt to address the subject? While the risks are acknowledged, threats alone are not severe enough to warrant the extra resources, budgets and effort to shore up the deficiency. Many of today’s IT departments are so resource and cost constrained that management commitment to a new program is difficult to secure. Variables like geographic locations, volume, and staffing are significant roadblocks to effectively implementing an IT Asset Disposal process. It is also fair to say that many organizations simply choose to forget about assets once they are decommissioned from the environment. In many enterprises, it’s all about “keeping the joint running” and attention to disposal policy and process is seen as just another administrative, non-value exercise. Micron was not unique. The intent of this article is to provide a look into how Micron improved its asset disposition process by focusing on business requirements, clear scope definition, and positioning the right people in the right roles. The key lesson from this article is that we were able to achieve positive results without adding staff or incurring additional costs.

Current Asset Disposal Process Issues

Prior to this effort, Micron had a rudimentary asset disposal process with a very limited scope. Our corporate headquarters in Boise, ID, had a longstanding partnership with a local non-profit agency chartered with supplying PCs to underpriviledged children. Excess assets would be staged and the agency would periodically pick up and distribute to deserving kids. While this arrangement was certainly positive to the community and to Micron (this relationship continues today), there were too many gaps and risks associated with the hands-off approach. There were several critical disconnects with the process:

  • It was difficult, if not impossible, to verify disks were adequately wiped or destroyed
  • There was no tracking of individual asset detail being donated
  • Little or no visibility into the receiving agency’s processes
  • No reporting around disposition status (donate, recycle, scrap) of the equipment donated
  • The program was very narrowly scoped to headquarters in Boise ID only
  • Attention overwhelmingly focused on PCs and monitors

Shoring up the disposal process was timely as Micron already had an effort underway to improve its overall IT Asset Management processes. Process improvement efforts at Micron are governed by our Process Improvement Methodology (PIM). Much of the credit for this methodology came from the teaching of Geary A. Rummler and Alan O. Brache in their work, Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space in the Organizational Chart. As a result of the PIM, Micron now has a common, repeatable approach to process improvement. This methodology proved extremely helpful in keeping the team focused and on track throughout the effort. While the point of this paper is not to delve deeply into methodology, it is worth summarizing the key components. there are six major component, with varying sub-processes and activities, of Micron’s Process Improvement Methodology.

The following is a brief explanations of each step:

  1. Assess Performance: In this phase, we review how improving a particular process aligns to the IS Strategy map. IT Asset Management had already been identified as a core processes most critical to strategy and asset disposition being a sub-process qualified it for an improvement effort.
  2. Define Project: Key activities in this phase are creating the portfolio business case, defining success criteria, and identifying the design team.
  3. Develop the Process: This is the phase where the design team performs the bulk of the work. Important activities include documenting as-is processes, gathering requirements, and developing the to-be process.
  4. Deploy the Process: Procedures, training, piloting and communication for large scale rollout are major activities in this phase.
  5. Sustain the Process: This involves reporting, metrics reviews, and training updates
  6. Adapt System: Yearly review by the Process Manager, strategy refresh, and budget planning occur in this phase.

The remainder of this article focuses on steps 3) Develop the Process and 4) Deploy the Process of the IT Asset Disposal Process Improvement project.

Developing the Process

With the steps 1 and 2 above complete, we were now ready to begin the process design effort. The bulk of this work was performed by the IT Asset Design team. Design teams are cross-functional groups representing all sites and IT areas. Critical operational roles (Asset Manager, Configuration Manager, support teams, etc.), Service Owners, Process Owners, and subject matters experts (SMEs) were key individuals on the design team. This team was responsible for gathering requirements, documenting the as-is process, and developing the to-be process. Some of the most telling artifacts were generated in the as-is documentation activities which allowed us to capture important requirements when defining the to-be process. It became clear that asset disposal practices varied greatly by site. Boise relied primarily on donation, other sites used third party asset recovery services, and others sent assets to Boise for disposal.

While these disposal methods added complexity, the larger concern was what little visibility we had into how these assets were prepared for disposal. Our focus was to design a common process for requesting the removal of a device from the environment and preparing the asset for disposition. We needed a method to track the entire process, from request to the time the asset left the facility. Depending on system condition, all disk drives would be wiped (we use the Department of Defense procedure) if the system is reusable and degaussed and destroyed if the system no longer functions. For sites partnering with a third party, data would have to be secured prior to pickup, or the partner would have to certify its data security and destruction practices if they provided this service on our behalf. Another important step in this process was the timely update of our asset repository as various lifecycle activities were performed on these assets. It is in this phase, that the process RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) matrix was created. This Documentation was cruicial in clarifying the roles and responsibilities in the process. Once the Design Team completed the as-as documentation, business requirements, disconnect analysis and to-be process definition, and RACI, it was time to move on to the deployment phase. 

Deploying the Process

Now the heavy lifting of putting our shiny, new process in place began. We defined the “what” in terms of process activities and now had to define the “how” in terms of procedures. Process diagrams were created using Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) standards and published in HTML format. One feature was the ability to click on a particular activity and view the procedure associated with that activity. With procedures documented for each activity, it was convenient for process performers to access all the information they needed from one location. Examples are shown below.

Training on the New Process

Training was a major component of the Deployment phase. We requested assistance from our Training department. Using various project artifacts (process diagrams, procedures, RACI diagrams), the training staff assisted us with developing a script and recording a computer based training module. The module consists of process overviews, work instructions, tool demonstrations, and an online assessment. Another important feature is the use of training profiles. The design team identified the target audience for the Asset Disposal training and each team member in this group had the course formally added to his or her training profile. We were also able to report training status for the individuals required to complete the training. This training mechanism proved very effective in reaching team members around the world.

Piloting the Process

While the training module was being developed, we identified key stakeholders to participate in a pilot of the new process. This team was mainly support personnel, service owners and asset coordinators. We used simulations and real-world asset lifecycle events in a proof-of-concept approach to test the process. The design team used this as an opportunity to assess how well the process worked and to make adjustments to the process prior to the training module going live.

Communication as the Linchpin

Without effective and timely communication, it does not matter how well a process is designed. Given the global scope and this importance of the subject, we relied heavily on our IT Communications and Documentation group. This group specializes in large scale rollouts similar to this project, assisting with documentation, technical writing, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), and other communication media. Various methods, from project updates, department news, blogs, and department meetings are available depending on the impact and audience for such an effort. In our case, travel to various sites was not feasible, so we facilitated individual sessions with major sites along with the department-wide communication efforts. Members of the pilot team were also expected to keep their respective groups up-to-date in preparation for the process deployment. Since the Asset Disposal process was a component of the larger IT Asset Management project, we had the advantage of an active and engaged user community. We were fortunate to have access to a group specializing in communication and they performed the bulk of the work (or counseled us on how to do the work). No matter what the scope and size of your effort is, frequent and effective communication is critical to success. Our project team benefited greatly from leveraging a professional communications group. If you have one at your disposal, take full advantage of this service. However, if you don’t have such a resource, do not underestimate the power of good communication. In our experience, the organizational change aspects of these efforts have proven to be some of the most challenging tasks. Empowering the right people, to perform the right activities and at the right time will often overcome process or tool deficiencies. Process and tools are easy to change; people are not.

Results

By accurately assessing current process performance, defining a project, developing the new process, and employing various tools to deploy the process, Micron has seen marked improvement in how idled IT assets are decommissioned and disposed. The Process Improvement Methodology has proven to be an effective vehicle for process improvement. Today, we are in the Sustain Process phase of the methodology. Improving reporting, metrics, and KPIs are key efforts that are underway. We currently report on assets that have been disposed and audit for discrepancies between our asset repository and the actual environment. We are investigating the feasibility of increasing our partnerships with reputable third party asset disposition vendors. The process design team meets regularly to review process improvement suggestions, evaluate process concerns, and address any operational issues.

There has been significant progress with Micron’s asset disposition but there is still a long way to go. Improving process performance remains a focal point to achieve a higher level of maturity. Process engagement and compliance on a global scale and tighter integration with other IS business processes is also on the maturity roadmap. The bottom line is that operational success is the by-product of people who have bought into the plan, streamlined processes, and appropriately used technology. An important lesson we are still learning is that omitting the first two pieces of that equation can be a fatal error to any process improvement initiative.

About the Author

David Walters is the IT Process Owner for Micron Technology, Inc.