What is Agile Manufacturing?

Next to software development, Agile is also proving valuable in the manufacturing industry. It is not just about fast value delivery, but also about improving the manufacturing process and increasing customer value while maintaining Agile principles.
Agile Manufacturing

What is it?

Agile is often associated with software development, and many people immediately think of Scrum when they hear the term Agile, which focuses on delivering value within a shorter period of time. However, shortening time specifically is often more challenging when developing physical products with longer lead times and external vendor involvement. Fortunately, using the Scrum framework is not the only way to become Agile as an organization or department. For organizations in the manufacturing industry, we see that the Agile mindset and empirical approach can deliver just as much value as for a software company. We then focus primarily on improving the entire system in which we develop a product, improving collaboration across disciplines, and increasing customer value, keeping in mind the Agile values and principles.

Why Agile Manufacturing?

Frequently, organizations aim to adopt Agile practices to effectively respond to the swiftly evolving needs of customers within an ever-changing society. When examining the manufacturing industry, this inquiry often takes a slightly different form. In these organizations, we are dealing with long-term roadmaps and projects that can take as long as five years. This means that the demand for agility from the customers of these organizations tends to be lower. These organizations are more often looking for:

  • Shortening lead times;
  • Improving collaboration across disciplines;
  • Scaling internal processes;
  • Increasing engagement toward customers/customers;
  • Improving collaboration with suppliers;
  • Reliability of schedules;
  • Reducing risks.

Given this difference in objectives among many organizations, we adopt a more pragmatic approach for manufacturing firms to identify what helps in achieving the goal. So when using an Agile framework, such as SAFe (which is very popular within the hardware industry) we look beyond the process suggestions provided by the framework. The goal is for people in the organization to really understand why they have certain events and/or roles and how this helps them achieve goals.

How do we support organizations in this change?

We support manufacturing organizations with consulting, coaching, training and by deploying experienced Scrum Masters and Kanban coaches who strengthen the organization from within the teams. In hardware organizations, we see a strong need for advice at the management level because an Agile transformation has an organization-wide impact. Consider value stream workshops, leadership advice and coaching, and setup issues. Given the experience and network we have within this industry, we are also able to set up knowledge exchange between different organizations. This can provide great support within the organization.

What do we see as the key principles within Agile Manufacturing?

As indicated earlier, Agile Manufacturing is not really different from Agile in a non-hardware organization. The main thing we see here is that we have certain nuances to the method because hardware organizations have just different goals and there are many similarities to be found in corporate cultures. In this case, a particular corporate culture can greatly influence what it takes for a change to succeed. Below are the points we see as very important within these types of organizations:

  • Find the right sponsors;
  • Break through silos;
  • Communicate goals clearly and frequently;
  • Educate stakeholders about uncertainty;
  • Integrate the V-model with empirical practice;
  • Consider where lead times can be shortened;
  • Omit terminology as much as possible.

The above points apply as important principles that may be relevant when going through an Agile transformation within the manufacturing industry. If you have questions about these principles, we would be happy to help.

Agile Manufacturing Roundtables

Seeing a strong need in the manufacturing industry to learn from each other, we started an Agile Manufacturing community. This group with returning participants meets once every quarter in a roundtable to discuss specific hardware and manufacturing challenges. In addition to learning from each other, this provides a good opportunity to expand our network.  These are afew examples of topics already covered:

These roundtables are for key decision-makers in manufacturing or hardware companies who shape organizational policies and processes. Think of R&D (Research and Development) managers, portfolio managers, change managers and transformation leads. Are you unsure if you this is something for you? We're happy to discuss it with you.

View all our meetups & events

Thinking about adopting Agile Manufacturing within your organization?

Mirelle Vink profielfoto