Sari Torkkola, Patria
Sari Torkkola, Patria

How I became a Lean CIO

Three years ago I had a successful career behind me. I was CIO of a defence and aerospace company running the corporate IT. I had great people in my team but they were burning out due to constant fire fighting and internal customers who after several gigantic improvement projects, concluded the service level as “IT sucks”. I then had to admit the traditional way of managing did not produce results for anybody. I started to look for something totally different and ended up googling the word “Lean” in October 2011.
At first, I asked the supervisors in my team to select the most important problems. Then I started experimenting with lean tools. We first tried A3 problem solving, then xmatrix for target setting and quite quickly the first kanbans for visualisation. I started to wonder why it all worked and got deeper and deeper into Lean thinking. I read a lot of books, attended Steve Bell’s master class, visited companies who had applied Lean and imported this new knowledge to my team.
Here are a few results: the sick leaves have dropped by half, we have stabilised the processes and cut waiting times from 100 hours to one hour. We have changed our processes and those of our service provider. We have a trustful relationship with the business units and several joint groups work on issues. I myself have started a blog for CIOs in Finland and I am frequently asked to tell how we did it.
I have transformed from a manager to a leader who coaches everyday. We have visual metrics on walls based on Little’s law and law of variability. People are excited and inspired. We are back in control! Well… not everybody. There has been a lot of resistance. It is not enough to transform yourself, everybody needs to change, and it is hard. Lean is a blessing and a curse. Once you understand it, you cannot go back to the past but you may be quite alone before the gains appear. Lean is against common practice and sometimes even common sense.
Today, I am still a CIO. Now I am leading a department which is an example of operational excellence with joy. I want to share this journey to you to give you inspiration and courage on your efforts.


Sari Torkkola has been CIO of the Finnish defense and aerospace company Patria since 2006. During the past 3 years, the systematical application of Lean principles has transformed her from a manager into a leader and her team from a bunch of stressed individuals to an example of operational excellence working with joy. She currently shares her Lean insights in public and private seminars and writes in the TOP100 CIO blog in Finland.