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How to successfully introduce agile process models in engineering


Agile process models promise enormous optimization potential. Today, organizations face additional challenges based on increasing complexity in manufacturing. These aspects have been highlighted in our first and second blog posts of our agile engineering series. But now, the question arises of how manufacturing businesses can meet the challenges of agile transformation. Below, we recommend a multi-stage process model and discuss what needs to be considered while using it.

Each transformation must be adjusted to the organization individually

Companies in engineering offer different products of varying complexities. While a few companies are already undergoing an agile transformation, others have just started the process. Therefore, we can only theoretically define a standard approach for agile transformation that is applicable to each enterprise.

The ideal approach depends on multiple factors: Can a product be developed together with the customer or do we validate it using a proxy? How concretely do requirements have to be detailed in advance in order to define a solution that is suitable for the end customer? What characteristics does the MVP need to fulfill the basic functions? Which processes and organizational structures are already in place to support agile ways of working?

Because every organization is different, we suggest a structured approach for agile transformation that tailors each step of the transformation to the client’s needs. Some companies can present their first pilots to the customer after just a few weeks, while others need much more time. That’s why product validation must follow a different approach different every time. Combining tailored measures within a structured approach ensures high solution-quality while providing  companies with the flexibility to incorporate knowledge gained from implementation as the transformation proceeds. Agile transformation therefore should, in itself, be managed in an agile fashion.

A structured approach is fundamental for a successful agile transformation

To support our clients in their agile transformation, we use an iterative approach, which defines the structure of successful implementation. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Approach to agile transformation

Transformation starts with the “assess and adapt” phase. In this phase, an understanding of the common goal will be developed, setting a direction for the entire transformation journey. This vision should describe a desired target state without going into concrete measures and it should be continuously adapted during the transformation. From this target, concrete optimization potentials are identified, the implementation of which leads the company closer to achieving its goal. Optimization potentials are evaluated and prioritized with regard to benefit, implementation effort, and complexity. They form the foundation for the transformation.

In the “design phase” the most important field for optimization will be analyzed and concrete, actionable measures are defined. Based on the situation, this may include the definition of new roles or adapting responsibilities, the introduction of new technologies (such as additive manufacturing, augmented reality, generative design, etc.), or the redesign of business processes. We recommend treating a maximum of three optimization potentials at the same time, per sprint, in the design phase in order to ensure sufficient focus. At the same time, pilot projects are selected in the design phase in which the measures are accurately implemented and tested.

The defined measures will be executed in the “pilot” phase where they are  tested under real conditions. Applying new tools and cooperation models in productive work helps to identify previously unknown problems and dependencies that are hard to predict up front. It is important to first implement the pilots on a small scale to minimize the chance of negative consequences in the event of failure. At the same time, the team and the resources allocated to the pilots are decisive; a highly motivated and qualified team is crucial for success, since unexpected problems are likely when the methods are first introduced and the team must be able to react quickly and pragmatically. The third important aspect of the pilot phase is change management. Change management should be taken into account from day one, as the new improvements will not be anchored in the company in the long term without the consent of the employees.

We highly recommend training executives first, because any profound change in a company always has to be managed from above. Nevertheless, it is also important to provide non-executives with sufficient opportunities to familiarize themselves with the new methods. The company can offer its employees training in agile collaboration or a digital change and communication platform.

After the piloting the circle closes and in the “asses and adapt” phase, we assess the contribution of the measures implemented in the pilot results towards the desired target state. If the measures implemented in the pilot do not meet the expectations, new measures are defined on the basis of the new findings or the existing measures are refined. Measures of satisfactory pilots are scaled and rolled out in the relevant business areas in order to make the best possible use of optimization potentials.

In our next post, learn more about the difficulties and resistance you will encounter during the introduction and how you can master them.