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Why Agile has become more prominent within projects in the manufacturing industry

23 Jul 2018

In today’s increasingly competitive market, streamlining any product development process is key to a manufacturer’s success. In fact, the impact of globalisation has meant that companies cannot afford to merely follow trends; successful businesses differentiate themselves by being trendsetters that are able to rapidly bring new solutions to the market in a shorter amount of time.

With new product development (NPD) and innovations around it becoming invariably more complex, Agile now plays a crucial role within the manufacturing industry.

According to the 11th Annual State of Agile survey by Version One, the Manufacturing sector is one of the top 10 industries that have adopted the agile methodology, with a 4% pick-up rate. They’re amongst Software (23%), Financial Services (14 percent), Insurance (6 percent) and Healthcare (6%) amongst others.

With product lifecycles decreasing considerably, the new becomes old very quickly; meaning that products must be re-engineered continuously. As such, Agile is beneficial as it enables business to meticulously identify production problems, eliminate information silos, reduce waste through minimisation and consolidation of resources, increase collaboration, and rapidly respond to customer demands.

The era of the customer

Agile is based on the premise that customer demands require rapid, efficient and effective responses to their needs. Therefore, the agile approach in manufacturing focuses on meeting the needs of customers early, whilst still maintaining high standards of quality and controlling the overall time and costs involved in the production of a new product.

Linear product development processes and conventional systems alone no longer support the collaborative incremental and iterative cycles that characterise agile product development in the industry.

As an example of how agile is applied to manufacturing, companies can reduce the reliance (where it was appropriate to do so) on big designs up front and start using agile’s ‘enough design up front’ concept for shorter development cycles with integrated testing.

This is far more beneficial than fixed (linear) series of product development stages for the final product launch. Agile not only ensures that organisations become true market leaders, but it also makes them more customer-centric, ensuring they can adapt their products quickly to meet the customers need.

Despite concerns that the faster and more flexible development cycles may have a detrimental effect on quality, the opposite has proven true. Shorter iterative agile ways of working and prompt collaborative testing often avoids small problems at the start, eventually having large ‘downstream’ effects.

In fact, agile has proven more cost effective as the iterative testing corrects quality issues at the earliest possible point in the manufacturing process.

The agile approach

Even though the manufacturing industry has entered a third industrial revolution with digital transformation, 3D printing and robotics; people are still essential to organisations as agile is in essence people-centric. It requires a different kind of leadership and has changed the industry from the old ‘command control’ to servant leadership. Agile leaders should have a broad and enduring commitment to empathically listen to their employees, customers and peers.

Prior to adopting agile, it’s recommended that companies take into consideration:

  • the company’s structure or culture;
  • overall business goals;
  • testing cycles;
  • And most importantly, agile skills.

Ultimately, the more competitive the market becomes the more companies will need to adapt to the new way of thinking especially as speed, flexibility and increased productivity are high priorities for organisations within the manufacturing industry.

Whether they decide to take on agile or start with hybrid methodologies, the reality is that changes will become increasingly necessary. To be agile, successful companies will need to support self-organising, empower people and encourage close collaboration between both the execution teams and customer. Those who can’t transform quickly will fall behind and risk being erased all together.

Article by Central Innovation training manager Robert Parker.

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