Practical Agile Principle #4

Pivot to a simpler approach

In innovative projects, such as EV manufacturing projects, the fourth value of the Agile Manifesto, “Responding to Change over Following a Plan,” emphasizes the balance between innovative creativity and project constraints. It recognizes that while innovation is desirable for its potential rewards, it must not jeopardize project schedule, cost, or other constraints. When innovation becomes a liability rather than an asset, the project should pivot to a simpler and more viable approach. Determining when innovation is no longer feasible within project constraints is a critical aspect of project management, especially in an agile context.

Innovation is often pursued to enhance effectiveness. The goal is to do the right things – whether that means developing new products, services, or methods that better meet customer needs, outperform competitors, or address new markets. However, innovation inherently comes with risks and uncertainties. Sometimes, innovative methods may not yield the desired outcomes or may prove to be less effective than anticipated. When an organization realizes that an innovative process isn’t yielding the expected benefits – perhaps it’s too costly, complex, or simply not delivering the desired results – it must revert to or adopt SOPs.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) represent established, tried-and-tested ways of doing things. Developed and refined over time, these SOPs serve as a reliable fallback when innovation stalls. They are about efficiency – doing things right. SOPs streamline processes, reduce errors, and ensure consistency in quality. They may not be as cutting-edge as innovative methods, but they offer reliability and predictability, which are crucial for operational stability, cost control, and ensuring progress toward project milestones. Switching from non-viable innovative processes to SOPs is an exercise in balancing efficiency and effectiveness. It’s about recognizing what works best for the organization’s goals and adapting accordingly.

Practical Agile Principle #4: Pivot to a simpler approach.

If an innovation doesn’t work, a project should pivot to a simpler approach. This means choosing a standard design or established technology over an untested new one. It also means standard operating procedures (SOPs) that help engineers and technicians implement standard designs and established technologies quickly and efficiently. The goal is to ensure that a project is not delayed because an innovative solution failed. This principle corresponds to the well-known principle of “decentralized command”; someone should make the call, i.e. tell the project team when to return to the standard approach. It could be someone on the project team or the project manager, but the key is to have people on the project team who have the courage to say so.

This shift from a creative approach to simpler, proven methods reflects strategic flexibility and pragmatic decision-making. Organizations must be willing to experiment with new ideas but also disciplined enough to recognize when an innovation is not performing as expected. The ability to pivot back demonstrates a commitment to operational excellence and a focus on long-term sustainability over short-term gains. Ideally, this shift is not seen as a failure of innovation but as part of a continuous improvement process. Organizations can learn from the unsuccessful innovative attempts, applying these lessons to future projects or even to enhance their SOPs.

GERMANENGINEER.COM provides a framework for identifying the tipping point at which continuing an innovative approach may outweigh its benefits at the expense of increased time or cost. The expertise provided is based on many completed innovative manufacturing projects and helps project stakeholders (both contractors and customers) make informed decisions that balance the need for innovation with the practical constraints of schedule, budget, and resource availability.

Here are some examples of changes during a manufacturing project that illustrate the need to move from a creative approach to simpler, proven methods:

  • Risks associated with the innovation (e.g. technological uncertainty, market unpredictability) do not decrease.
  • The project consumes significantly more resources (time, budget, people) than planned without making adequate progress.
  • The innovative aspects are not aligned with user needs or expectations, or diverge from the core objectives of the project, based on feedback from customers, team members, and sponsors.
  • Innovation is significantly behind or fails to meet an industry benchmark.
  • Costs (including opportunity costs) are significantly higher than the expected benefits.
  • The project team is consistently faced with challenges beyond their skill level, or morale is low due to the complexity or uncertainty of the innovative aspects.






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