5 steps to an agile transformation in manufacturing

Manufacturers are increasingly turning to custom software delivery to create a competitive advantage in their industry, but progress is slow. Why? Historically, manufacturers have gravitated to fixed costs, scope, and schedule—in software delivery, it's called the waterfall delivery process.

There’s a more effective route to delivery: Evidence shows that the agile development model yields higher-quality results more efficiently. By transitioning to an agile, product-focused mindset, manufacturers can realize value and competitive advantage, faster.

In fact, by transitioning just a fraction of practices, an organization can still realize 80 percent of the value of agile. In this article (pulled from this white paper), we present five key steps to agile transformation in manufacturing.

5 steps to agile in manufacturing

1.) Reduce project size

All large transformations start with small success stories. Especially when introducing the agile model to the enterprise, we recommend distilling a project down to its smallest functional modules. Choose an initiative that entails 1,500-5,000 man-hours, and divide the work up into six sprints. Since the stakes are lower in agile (due to the componentized process), embrace failure, as doing so encourages collaboration, creativity, and learning.

2.) Use lean requirements to jump-start delivery

With agile development, shipping working software takes priority over comprehensive documentation. In contrast, with the waterfall model, one analyst creates reams of static documents over several months or longer. Not only are these documents inaccessible to the remainder of the team and quick to become obsolete—they also do not provide any real business value.

In contrast, with lean requirements, we meet as a group (including stakeholders for buy-in) and reach a shared understanding of deliverables, complete with user personas, story maps, user flow diagrams, and prioritization exercises for the captured scope.

3.) Upgrade tools to improve communication

For managing projects, try Jira, which promotes transparency, integration, and communication. Via Jira, your team can manage backlogs, define user stories, capture acceptance criteria, upload and attach visual design assets, collaborate through comments, and monitor dependencies and blockers. The system also provides a living audit trail of all project-related activity, including in-depth reporting on delivery, roadmap planning, and more.

4.) Invest in continuous integration and delivery

Continuous Integration (CI) is a development practice and tool-set enabling engineers to integrate code into a shared repository on a daily basis. CI build servers run automated tests and build the product, allowing individual contributors to detect defects as soon as source code is checked in.

In this way, you avoid many conflicts when merging code. Not only does deployment become automated and predictable—infrastructure, support, and QA costs decrease.

5.) Integrate quality assurance (QA) into delivery teams

With the waterfall model, separate teams carry out User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and System Integration Testing (SIT) toward the end of the delivery process. Agile introduces a superior model, involving automated continuous testing.

Integrate UAT into delivery sprints, executing tests on fully functional software. Instead of using service stubs (which are ineffective), opt for development and staging environments with access to all dependencies. Introduce unit tests and inclusive code coverage. The results will be superior, with dramatically reduced costs and timetables.

Final thoughts

An agile transformation for a large, globally-distributed manufacturer with an established enterprise delivery framework will take time and grit to execute. Begin with these five mechanical, process-based changes to dramatically reduce costs and increase delivery speed.

For the best results, choose customer-facing initiatives that are not part of the ERP core, and pick team members who are not politically tied to the status quo. Be sure to provide senior executive sponsorship to push the agenda forward.

For more, download the full white paper.