Practical Agile Principles at Work

GERMANENGINEER.COM proposes practical agile principles specifically tailored to improve projects related to the latest assembly-line technologies. These practical agile principles will enable automakers to accelerate current EV manufacturing projects and drive innovation. Ultimately, this should help automakers make EV production as economically efficient as possible.

Projects that create new electric vehicle (EV) assembly-line technologies are inherently agile, necessitated by the evolving nature of the subject. The specifications of EVs, including their batteries and electric motors, change frequently. This is primarily driven by advances in technology, which in turn change manufacturing processes. In addition, EV manufacturing is affected by fluctuating demand and availability of key components such as rare earth metals, copper and semiconductors. All these factors can disrupt production schedules and increase costs, forcing manufacturers to quickly adapt their projects to these dynamic conditions. Traditional approaches do not work here – agile projects inherently require an agile approach.

Agile, a subset of Lean Project Management, has proven most effective in dealing with the complexities and delays and is well suited to solving the challenges associated with today’s EV manufacturing projects. Its flexible and iterative approach effectively addresses the dynamic and complex nature of EV manufacturing, resulting in improved project outcomes and faster time to market.

Agile is also a catalyst for innovation, unleashing the creativity of project teams to develop new innovative assembly-line technologies, create high-quality factory jobs, and make other improvements to maximize the economics of EV manufacturing. The sheer volume of innovation in IT is a testament to the power of Agile. The IT industry is using Agile to create huge innovations such as social media, mobile apps, and various service-oriented platforms such as Amazon, Uber, Spotify, and Airbnb. Agile is also playing an important role in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning. Examples from companies such as Tesla and SpaceX show that Agile can be successfully adapted to manufacturing. These companies, led by Elon Musk, have brought Agile values from the world of software development to the design and manufacture of electric vehicles and spacecraft.1

The following four sections detail how each of the four Agile values – individuals and interactions over process and tools, working product over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan – can be adapted and implemented in EV manufacturing projects. Each Agile value is the basis for a practical principle that can be applied to improve the efficiency and innovation of manufacturing projects. In this way, GERMANENGINEER.COM provides practical guidance to help automakers and manufacturing equipment suppliers manage agile projects.

1. Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools

The first Agile value is “Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools” or, in other words, “Teamwork”. The authors of the Agile Manifesto believe that the collaboration of motivated and competent professionals is more likely to achieve project goals and team interests than isolated individuals following strict rules. The first Agile value does not deny rules but emphasizes the importance of their flexibility and adaptability. This approach contrasts with bureaucratic systems, which often adhere rigidly to form at the expense of project needs and team dynamics.

In the context of agile projects, such as the design and implementation of EV assembly-line technologies, where the pace of innovation and change requires rapid adaptation and close collaboration, it is important to rethink the role and structure of teams.

The creation of agile project teams becomes a primary requirement. These teams must not only have technical skills. They must also be capable of agile collaboration and real-time problem solving. It is this team dynamic that allows them to maximize every opportunity for innovation while effectively responding to any changes in project or market requirements.

The first practical agile principle emphasizes strategies for building and managing agile teams that can overcome typical challenges and deliver outstanding results:

Practical Agile Principle #1: Small, Cross-functional Teams Working Under One Roof
  • Small teams improve communication efficiency because the number of interactions increases exponentially in large teams, making it difficult to find time to interact with all project partners.
  • Cross-functional teams foster collaboration and innovation by bringing together diverse expertise from the outset. This reduces costly design errors and ensures project success.
  • Working under one roof benefits the project team by maximizing the impact of face-to-face interaction, which remains superior to modern communication tools. This direct interaction promotes instant communication and enhances teamwork.

GERMANENGINEER.COM uses these practical strategies to build and manage agile project teams for EV manufacturing projects. Teams built on this practical principle are very strong. Their strength is that they can continuously improve themselves, speed up their work processes and free up time for creativity. Ultimately, this creativity can be channeled to improve manufacturing processes, develop new innovative EV assembly line technologies, create high-quality factory jobs, and make other advances to maximize the economics of EV manufacturing.

Creating such agile project teams will also address the talent shortage for EV manufacturing projects. By building teams of young professionals and continuously improving their discipline and skills, GERMANENGINEER.COM is helping to ensure that current and future EV projects are supported by well-prepared project teams.

For a detailed discussion of building and managing agile teams, see the post Practical Agile Principle #1.

2. Working Product over Comprehensive Documentation

The second Agile value is “Working Product2 over Comprehensive Documentation”. The authors of the Agile Manifesto value a working product as more useful and valuable to the customer than extensive documentation detailing what the product should do. This doesn’t mean that Agile neglects documentation. It advocates documentation that is balanced and not at the expense of the product’s functionality. In traditional project management, much of the project team’s effort would be focused on producing thorough documentation. This would include requirements documentation, technical specifications, design documents, test plans, and more. While documentation is important, it often led to situations where the project got bogged down in paperwork and the actual work was delayed or lost in the translation between what was documented and what was needed.

By prioritizing the working product, the second value of Agile inherently encourages increasing the functionality and usability of the product – its continuous improvement. For teams working on EV projects, improvement is not an option, but a necessity. An electric car must improve in many areas, such as range, charging time, reliability, and price. To achieve this, key components such as batteries and electric motors must be continuously improved in both design and production.

The second practical agile principle emphasizes strategies for creating an environment that fosters creativity and the successful implementation of innovative ideas:

Practical Agile Principle #2: Simplicity and High Bar
  • Simplifying tasks makes them easier to automate, improving both speed and quality. This, along with the elimination of unnecessary work, gives the team more time to focus on self-improvement and creativity.
  • Setting high goals inspires teams to innovate and continuously improve, discouraging reliance on legacy solutions and encouraging breakthrough innovation.

GERMANENGINEER.COM implements these practical strategies in EV manufacturing projects. To learn more about these strategies, read Practical Agile Principle #2.

To summarize the above, the proposed practical agile principles will create EV manufacturing project teams and provide them with the right conditions for continuous improvement. By unleashing their creative resources, the teams will begin to optimize the processes around them, creating innovative assembly-line technologies, modern workplaces, and high-quality factory jobs.

3. Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

The third Agile value is “Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation”. Despite our best efforts, we cannot predict the future or read our customers’ minds. The customer, like anyone else, can change their mind about a product or its quality, regardless of the original plan or the terms of the contract. Especially in today’s rapidly changing world of technology, which includes electric vehicles, market needs and user expectations can change rapidly. What seemed important at the beginning of a project may become obsolete by the time the project is completed. In addition, customers may not fully understand their needs at the beginning of a project or may discover new needs as the project evolves. This underscores why collaboration with customers is more important than strict contract terms.

To implement this core value of Agile, project managers today use the Lean Startup approach, based on Eric Ries’ book of the same name.3 Instead of building something alone in a dark basement, the goal is to get a product into the hands of customers as quickly as possible, understand their needs through tangible experience, and iterate the product to meet those needs.

However, the Lean Startup approach needs to be refined in the context of “hardware” projects by shifting the focus from rapid and continuous product delivery to early and continuous risk mitigation. Early and continuous risk identification and mitigation creates the same customer value (customer satisfaction) as rapid and continuous product delivery. It prevents risks and uncertainties from escalating into more serious problems later in the project, thereby increasing the chances of overall project success.

Practical Agile Principle #3: Early and Continuous Risk Mitigation.
  • To achieve continuous risk reduction, it is critical to identify and prioritize all risks associated with the design, development, procurement, manufacturing, assembly, delivery, installation, acceptance, operation, and maintenance of the EV manufacturing equipment.
  • Conducting early and frequent risk reviews is essential. These reviews analyze innovation progress and risks, and guide project adjustments. If the project is validated with minimal risks, it will proceed as planned. However, the project must be pivoted if significant risks or issues are identified.
  • The risk identification and review activities generate a visual plan that acts as a project roadmap. Each event marks a starting or ending point for innovative and creative processes, facilitating effective development of new ideas.

GERMANENGINEER.COM plans and conducts risk identification and review events for EV manufacturing projects. Read more in the post Practical Agile Principle #3.

To summarize the points discussed so far, the proposed practical agile principles will create self-improving project teams, which in turn will create new assembly-line technologies, modern workplaces, and high-quality factory jobs. Risk identification and review activities provide a disciplined roadmap for this creative process and successfully manage customer expectations.

4. Responding to Change over Following a Plan

The fourth value of the Agile Manifesto, “Responding to Change over Following a Plan,” emphasizes the importance of flexibility and adaptability in project management, advocating the ability to respond to changing circumstances and requirements rather than rigidly adhering to a predetermined plan. In innovative projects, such as EV manufacturing projects, the fourth value of the Agile Manifesto 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 using standard operating procedures (SOPs) to 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.
  • Someone should make the call, i.e. tell the project team when to pivot to the simpler 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.
  • 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. See Practical Agile Principle #4 for more information.

In summary, GERMANENGINEER.COM established practical agile principles for building project teams and creating innovative EV assembly-line technologies. We also provided practical principles for dealing with the complexities and delays of EV projects – early and continuous risk mitigation and pivot to a simpler approach.

  1. How Tesla Used Robotics to Survive “Production Hell” and Became the World’s Most Advanced Car Manufacturer retrieved 06/11/2024. ↩︎
  2. As this post focuses on applying agile principles to manufacturing, the original Agile Manifesto value of “working software over comprehensive documentation” is being adapted to “working product”. ↩︎
  3. retrieved 06/11/2024. ↩︎






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *