Success factor Agility: attitude beats methodology

by Dr. Andreas Romberg, STAUFEN.AG

Agility is currently being hyped to a similar extent as Lean in the 1990s. At that time, Lean was considered to be the panacea for improving and maintaining competitiveness. Before the turn of the millennium, countless managers went on a pilgrimage to the paragons of that time, such as Toyota, and came back with a whole stash of new ideas. Unfortunately, Lean was reduced to just a few methods such as Kanban, 5S, TPM etc. – as a result many companies only scratched the surface, and the outcome was correspondingly disappointing. We can see a similar situation today with Agility, the current buzzword.

Various protagonists such as Google and Co. have already achieved considerable success with Agility. Here, too, we can identify single isolated methods and concepts such as Scrum, Scrumban, Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) etc. However, unfortunately this is also just scratching the rather method-driven surface. Because Agility is a systematic approach based on the principles of Lean and creates a culture that can lead to an increase in the competitiveness of many companies by exploiting the interaction between diverse factors such as processes, structures, management systems, supporting infrastructures and new methods.

So what does Agile mean?

Many companies are under increasing pressure to change because they realize: “Nothing works as it used to!” Traditional processes and structures can no longer keep pace with the increasing demands of products, markets and international value creation networks as well as societal changes. The “rat race” means increased stress levels.

Agility helps to cope with uncertainties and high dynamics and to make growing complexity manageable. However, Agility must be seen as a systemic approach and implemented in a company-specific manner – if only because organizations have to learn to constantly adapt to changing framework and market conditions.

The system must fit the organization

Once successful market leaders such as Nokia, Eastman Kodak, Sears or even domestic companies such as Schlecker or Arcandor have not been able to stand the test of changing times. What they have in common is that they did not recognize the changes in market requirements or did so too late – and, consequently, their bad investments cost billions. Moreover, their products were no longer able to deliver superior customer benefits so these once proud top dogs were wiped out within a few years or trimmed to minimum dimensions.

Dynamic adaptability to surrounding conditions is therefore not an end in itself. Rather, it serves to ensure companies’ long-term viability in complex, dynamic surroundings. This, however, does not mean that every organization must automatically embrace Agility. The context of the respective company is key. With highly predictable, strongly repetitive processes and changes, Agility would simply be a “waste of time and effort”. It is also not necessary to change the entire construct. An Agile organization can also mean that some areas within the company become Agile while others don’t. And yet the company as a whole is adaptable. In other words, the focus is on the organizations within an organization.

Dr. Andreas Romberg is a Lean specialist in development and production. After graduating as a mechanical engineer (production and precision engineering) he worked as a university research assistant and process consultant and was awarded his doctorate in the field of production engineering and company organization. He gained extensive line experience during his 12 years in the automotive supply industry as production manager and plant manager. During this time he gained comprehensive experience in the implementation and application of Lean Methods and was responsible for numerous new system start-ups. He has been a consultant at Staufen AG since the middle of 2003. As Senior Partner, he is head of the “STAUFEN.Think Tank”

dr. andreas romberg,

As close as possible to the value stream

When adapting and introducing Agility, the maturity level of each company should be evaluated with regard to various fields of action such as structures, processes and management culture.  In addition, the impact of the respective environment must be assessed by means of a context analysis. Reasonable development paths can only be mutually defined when it is clear where the company stands. A sound starting point for an Agile organization is an organization that is aligned to the leadership principles of Lean Management and supports decision-making as close as possible to the value stream.

A self-changing system

Agility is very much based on the principles of Lean Management. Essentially, this is all about constant customer orientation, a strong focus on Lean processes and a universal understanding of and thinking in customer-to-customer processes. This means that in addition to the end customer, internal customer relationships are also considered and dealt with. Moreover, the empowerment of employees and the transfer of responsibility to the value stream are particularly important both in Lean and Agility.

As close as possible to the value stream

But where exactly is the dividing line between Lean and Agility? Probably the most important benefit of an Agile organization lies in the fact that it is a self-changing and reflective system. At first, this sounds abstract and uncontrollable but is in fact very close to being a value stream organization. Also in Agile organizations, decision-making and implementation are brought as close as possible to the value stream. The difference is that in a value stream organization it is ultimately the managers who make the decisions. In an Agile organization, the manager is a kind of enabler who is there to support the system but not to make the decisions himself.

The buzzword Agility should not be too quickly reduced to being a few methods such as Scrum, Scrumbam etc. Instead, it is important to learn from Lean Transformation and immediately focus on the “big picture” in the sense of a systemic approach. Applying Agile working procedures and methods is part of the journey to “doing Agile”. However, a sustainable Agility-promoting culture of collaboration in the sense of “being Agile” requires not only new methods, but also in particular a change in leadership towards self-management and a change in mindset and attitude – for everyone, managers and employees alike. Culture is the crux of the path towards Agility, because attitude beats methodology in every case.

Europe’s leading Lean Management Congress

The rules have changed. If you want to stick around or get ahead, you need to take action! The motto of this year’s BestPractice Day on July 02, 2019 in Darmstadt (optional add-on workshops on July 3 and 4) is therefore “Learn. Lead. Shape change.” Experience a first-class program with key speakers from the lean, new work and digital scene. With more than 350 participants annually, BestPractice Day has earned the distinction of being the place for decision-makers in the fields of industry and science to meet.

More Information about the event:

  • Congress Presentation on BestPractice Day 2019, July 2, 2019 in Darmstadt: “Get Agile? Break the pattern! But with purpose and expertise, please”
  • Workshop BestPractice Day 2019, July 3, 2019 in Darmstadt: “AGILITY – LET’S GO! How a moment can change everything”
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