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Agile Project Management in Manufacturing: A Game-Changer for Productivity

Agile Project Management in Manufacturing: A Game-Changer for Productivity

Agile project management in manufacturing helps manufacturers address any speed and production quality issues faster and more efficiently. In a highly competitive environment, manufacturers require streamlined operations that give them an additional advantage.

However, with higher levels of competition, there is a need for new strategies and approaches to manufacturing to ensure that projects are managed in an agile way. This is where agile project management (PM) comes to the fore in manufacturing.

It addresses significant challenges and helps make operations much more efficient and leaner by borrowing best practices from other fields, such as software development. Keep reading below to find out more about this evolving style of managing projects in the manufacturing industry.

Agile Project Management in Manufacturing: A Game-Changer for Productivity

What Is Agile Manufacturing?

The question of what agile manufacturing is has a straightforward answer. It is a project management approach that is used in the manufacturing industry. Simply put, agile project management has its roots in software development projects as far back as 2001 through the Agile Manifesto.

However, there is a common misconception that the agile approach is exclusive to this field. While it was traditionally reserved for the software industry, its best practices have evolved and now extend to manufacturing as well.

How does agile project management in manufacturing work? It's important to look back at traditional project management models first. The primary one was the waterfall model. This PM approach is quite linear and resulted in slow and sluggish implementation as many teams would gather to work on a project in an undeviating manner.

In a world where competition is rife, customers demand greater levels of quality and deliverables are expected on time on a regular basis, this approach is no longer effective. This is where the agile methodology was introduced to software development, where consistent adaptation is key. So, how does agile PM operate?

Instead of chunking large tasks together, a project is divided into small iterations, or “sprints,” that last two to three weeks. Each sprint is an iterative framework. In essence, it is a time for reflection on the product’s development by the relevant teams of between five and nine members and stakeholders. Through this process, deliverables are continuously produced. In addition, stakeholder involvement is increased, and importantly, any product changes can be made much more easily.

Once the agile method took off in software development, other industries quickly realised that it could be applied to theirs as well. Manufacturing is one such example. Here, projects with short production life cycles and fast delivery times can be adapted to the agile framework, which can help a development team implement faster and higher quality turnaround times and products.

Another frequent misconception, apart from the fact that agile is considered solely an aspect of software development, is that agile is often confused or used interchangeably with lean PM or lean manufacturing. Whereas agile principles incorporate a customer-centric approach, rapid iteration and continuous improvements in business processes to handle external forces of change, lean PM is more focused on improving internal operations and processes.

On the contrary, traditional manufacturing processes would begin with gathering the project requirements in terms of scope, cost, schedules and risks. This would be followed by design. Afterwards, the product would be realised, after which client verification would ensue. Then, deployment to the customer would take place and ongoing maintenance would continue. With agile, the agile process, product development process and life cycle tend to follow this structure:

  • Creation of cross-functional teams
  • Establishment of product backlogs
  • Planning for sprints
  • Sprints
  • Daily scrum meetings

 

Thus, an iterative approach to events can take place simultaneously or in a unique order to enable better product customisation, meet the client’s requirements in terms of their needs and add greater value. Through this “small-batch approach” to manufacturing, there is less risk and greater agility as silos are broken down and flexibility is enhanced.

How to Use Agile Project Management in Manufacturing

Introducing agile PM in manufacturing operations requires careful thought and planning because it means a complete readaptation to a new way of doing things. Initial discussions with management, engaging the project team, a pilot project simulation, decision-making, and standardisation are all part of the process of introducing agile in manufacturing.

We explore each of these steps in more detail below.

Initial Discussions with Management

Introducing agile PM in manufacturing often requires frank discussions with management. This is where agile coaches approach top management to gain a deeper understanding of the company’s biggest project issues. Examples of these are frequent cost overruns, product rollout issues, product quality issues, etc.

Once pain points are identified, it’s time to set clear expectations about anticipated outcomes. It’s also important to align agile with current manufacturing project challenges. When there’s management buy-in, teams can operate more confidently in a new space.

Engaging the Project Team

After management has agreed to implement agile for manufacturing, it’s time to get a project team together. This can include engineers, designers, technicians, marketing team members, etc. For this purpose, it’s essential to gather the team and understand more about their perspectives and leadership needs. An agile coach will try to explore their current challenges and ways to overcome them.

In order to do so, agile coaches should ask what type of leadership the team requires for the project to be a success. In addition to this, leaders and management must be on the same page and be willing to offer their skills and knowledge as needed.

Often, the challenges that need to be addressed include aspects such as trust from management, early client feedback and knowing what direction to take. While these may sound simple, each one is quite difficult to overcome and gain alignment on. This is why teams must be empowered to self-organise.

Pilot Project Simulation

The next step is to choose a pilot project to simulate in order to implement agile practices. The reason for this is to determine and showcase the approach’s effectiveness.

To choose the pilot project to simulate, agile coaches advise that it should contain an element of risk, meaning it is important enough to have the team’s vested interest in it.

Coaches will then lead the simulation and put the best practices into action while following this by sharing impressions and providing feedback. While it may be easy to talk about implementing agile methodologies in a manufacturing environment, it requires a commitment from all parties involved and their vested interests must be considered too.

Guiding the transition, agile coaches then help to extract key insights from the exercise. This way, they determine where improvements can be made and which challenges need to be addressed and how.

Decision-Making and Standardisation

Research shows that, in most cases, after a pilot project has been successfully simulated, management finds that they usually want to adopt it. For this reason, they will often ask themselves questions, such as: What are the obstacles or challenges holding us back from full implementation of agile across all projects? They need to make an informed decision and then transition to agile as a new standard in manufacturing.

Once a decision has been made to implement agile within an organisation, coaches need to help the team get comfortable and confident with regard to the new way of working and carrying out projects. For this strategy to be successful, industry best practices show that training certain members of the internal team to be agile coaches themselves is a good idea. This means that knowledge and skills are kept in-house and that teams don’t need to rely on external help.

Key Components of Agile Manufacturing

When implementing agile in manufacturing, it is important to understand what its key components are. Although we have broadly covered what agile is earlier, the key concepts need a separate discussion and explanation for a better grasp and improved implementation.

Agile Mindset

Mindset is crucial in any organisation. It dictates how work is done, how processes are followed and what the outcomes of joint efforts are. Changing an organisational mindset is a big step and requires concerted effort. In particular, ways of thinking such as flexibility and adaptability need to be cultivated from the ground up. This ensures that all teams and every member of the organisation are on board with the broader company goals and objectives.

The cultural shift should not only entail flexibility and adaptability but also collaboration and rapid response. This is where leadership needs to step in to foster a positive work environment where these mindsets are fostered throughout the organisation.

Cultural Transformation

Another key component of agile manufacturing is transforming organisational culture. This takes time and effort on the part of every individual within the business. However, the results are worth it. For this to happen, there needs to be a steady transformation from a command-and-control to a trust-based culture. Command-and-control refers to a management style where decisions are made at the top of the organisational hierarchy and implemented by the members at the lower rungs of the hierarchy.

There is little room for discussion or debate, and team members must simply implement what management or leadership has decided upon. In a trust-based culture, team members are encouraged to express opinions and views regarding how projects are implemented. This lets management tap into their creativity and expertise to ensure better decision-making. For this reason, employee empowerment and fostering a culture of creativity are good ways to introduce agile within the organisation.

Adapting Agile for Manufacturing Projects

Manufacturing projects vary in their level of complexity. Most such projects require complex and heavy machinery and equipment for production lines to operate. However, there’s also a need for skilled workers who can manage the equipment and handle emergency repairs and preventive maintenance in a timely manner.

When agile methodology is implemented in a manufacturing project, it requires adaptation to ensure that all components of the production line function efficiently. Such adaptation means a shift in mindset, new cultural adoption and implementation of the agile way. This often complex task requires significant time to streamline, and therefore, implementing agile must be an organisation-wide endeavour for the project’s success.

This is irrespective of whether manufacturing facilities operate in batches or large quantities of item production. The principles will be the same. Teams need to operate in an agile manner through effective sprints to make the process more efficient and to focus on the ultimate objective: customer satisfaction and streamlined supply chains.

Agile Project Management Roles in Manufacturing

Apart from a mindset shift, cultural transformation and adapting agile for manufacturing, there are specific teams that need to get on board when agile is implemented. These experts come together and run the manufacturing project collectively. A team effort is required to bring the project to life.

In this section, we discuss the product owner trio and the different roles played by a scrum master and an agile coach.

  • Product Owner Trio

 

Product ownership in manufacturing needs to be distributed properly according to specific roles. There are three primary product owners in an agile team and these are the project manager, the marketing expert and the head of engineering. Firstly, the project manager oversees the whole project from an organisational and management perspective. As part of their responsibilities, they look after the schedule and project structure, stakeholder management and communication and collaboration with teams.

Then there is the marketing specialist, who will ultimately be responsible for taking the product to market. They will oversee the project from a product perspective. Finally, there is the head of engineering, who has all the technical knowledge of the necessary integration of components to manage the project’s complexity. They need to have formal authority and respect within the organisation. It is these three individuals who are the product owners of an agile project.

  • Scrum Master vs Agile Coach

 

scrum master

In addition to the product owner trio, there is a scrum master and an agile coach. The latter’s responsibility is to train everyone on the team to implement agile methodologies and help facilitate a shift in mindset. Meanwhile, the scrum master leads “scrums,” or daily meet-ups, where they meet with the team to discuss any potential challenges and the way forward.

Benefits and Challenges of Agile in Manufacturing

As with most things in life, there is no perfect solution to anything, and project management is no different. While it does have enormous benefits, it also has some important drawbacks.

In this section, we explore both the benefits and challenges of agile in manufacturing. Let’s take a look.

Benefits of Agile in Manufacturing

Some of the benefits of agile in manufacturing are:

  • Increased speed and flexibility in project delivery: Introducing agile methodologies in manufacturing project management means that project delivery can be achieved at a faster rate than the traditional waterfall model. This speed and flexibility give organisations an upper hand over competitors. As such, they can streamline supply chains and produce greater quality products, which lead to customer satisfaction and increased loyalty.
  • Improved collaboration and communication: Through daily sprints and scrums, teams collaborate and communicate more effectively both among each other and with the relevant stakeholders. This means that challenges are addressed as soon as they are identified and solutions are sought for their resolution. This is an important way to get high-quality products to market much faster.
  • Faster decision-making and customer feedback: When an agile project management team implements agile practices in their routines, it leads to much quicker decision-making processes. When this happens, teams are better able to act in the best interests of the client or stakeholder. Involving stakeholders during the entire process is a great way to acquire customer feedback, which then loops back into the sprints and scrums, resulting in better customer outcomes and higher levels of satisfaction.

 

Challenges of Agile for Manufacturing

Despite the numerous benefits of agile in manufacturing, certain challenges need to be kept in mind. A few of these include:

  • Cultural resistance and mindset shift: A mindset shift may be easy to discuss but difficult to implement. This requires a full cultural shift organisation-wide. However, when team members are resistant to change, they can derail agile methodologies and processes, resulting in a push-pull effect with limited results.
  • Adapting existing processes to agile methodologies: It is also essential to adapt existing processes to agile methodologies. However, this is not always a simple task. That’s because manufacturing facilities often operate with highly complex machines and equipment, equalled by highly complex production processes.
  • Training and skill development for agile adoption: For agile project management for manufacturing to succeed, it is necessary to invest time and resources into training and skill development for agile adoption. Often, organisations lack these resources, making the transition to agile more difficult and cumbersome.

Fabrico: Your Project Management Tool for Machine Maintenance

If you are looking for a pertinent agile manufacturing example, the answer lies in Fabrico’s computerised maintenance management system (CMMS). When implemented, which can take place in just one day, teams can easily streamline production processes as well as preventative maintenance efforts.

Serving a broad range of industries involved in manufacturing, this CMMS software introduces exceptional efficiencies and its user-friendly interface makes for faster team adoption that eases workflows, collaboration and communication.

To explore this solution for yourself, why not sign up for your free demo today? Let Fabrico’s team help you enjoy the full functionalities of a world-class CMMS that puts your production processes and organisation on a more competitive level.

Conclusion

Agile project management in manufacturing is becoming a leading way for organisations to reach greater competitive advantages and heights. However, agile requires an overhaul of an organisation’s current way of thinking and working. With this in mind, businesses must be ready for change and be able to implement it at every level of the organisation and every opportunity.

We encourage you to explore agile methodologies for enhanced competitiveness and streamlined operations to help facilitate greater customer satisfaction, more efficient supply chains and greater, more collaborative and creative team involvement in the entire process.

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