Digitally transforming ourselves

Digital transformation can help manufacturers make better decisions faster and help companies harness the accelerating rate of change.

By Randy Rausch December 13, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

Digital transformation is about using data to make better business decisions faster. The data shows agile project management methodologies consistently lead to higher quality, productivity and customer satisfaction.

Our rigorous waterfall project management processes served EOSYS well for the last 31 years. In that time the rate of change in the world has accelerated, especially so in the last few years. Project development cycles that were acceptable 10 years ago aren’t good enough for customers today. This trend will continue, and today’s “fast enough” won’t be fast enough tomorrow. To remain competitive, companies developing software need agile processes that navigate and harness the accelerating rate of change.

Agile helps teams develop better software faster and provides a competitive advantage in our rapidly changing world.

What is agile and how does it affect manufacturing operations?

Agile is a mindset and Lean manufacturing approach that emphasizes short time frames, adaptability and completing project through incremental steps. Agile methodologies are often contrasted with traditional waterfall approaches. Gantt charts are replaced with burn up charts. Scrum masters and product owners play a key role in project execution. Learning and adapting are valued more than proving original estimates were correct. Customer collaboration is prioritized over contract negotiation. The highest priority in agile is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions.
EOSYS uses a brand of agile called Scrum, which is a lightweight framework to organize, prioritize and execute projects with an emphasis on continuous improvement. Scrum is founded on empiricism and Lean thinking. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and decisions should be based on what is observed. Lean thinking reduces waste and focuses on the essentials.

What are the internal benefits of using agile?

The scrum framework helps resolve certain scaling concerns while also enhancing quality and productivity. Beyond the financial benefits, there are significant benefits to employee engagement and developing younger talent. Agile promotes team autonomy, which leads to higher satisfaction. Small teams stick together to deliver a set of projects, giving early career developers regular access to more seasoned engineers. The team has a predictable, prioritized and well-defined set of features groomed and ready for development. The framework helps recruit “digital natives” and enables new employees to ramp up quickly and contribute, which reduces an unhealthy dependency on a few star employees.

What are the key benefits of agile for customers?

For integrators that do agile well, customers reap the benefit of faster delivery with lower total costs. There also is the increased likelihood of customers getting what they need most even if it wasn’t specified precisely during the quoting phase of the project. Agile enables a much more collaborative environment.

Agile doesn’t smelt the iron triangle of fixed cost, scope, and schedule, but it does give integrators and customers the flexibility to make informed tradeoffs. In fixed-price, fixed-schedule projects, new and better ideas can seamlessly be substituted for less valuable scope.

What is your approach?

If you’ve had experience with a Lean transformation, you know how important it is to internalize the mindset shift, get the culture right, and have active leadership support. The same is true of an agile transformation.

EOSYS started by educating senior leadership on the mindset and getting their commitment. A working team then established the new ways of working and tools. We treated the agile transition itself as an agile project, complete with a backlog, sprints, sprint reviews and retrospectives. EOSYS made an early investment to hire a professional scrum master and is actively certifying additional scrum masters. Training is a major investment and team design is critical for agile to work in our line of business.

We are early in our agile transformation, but we are already seeing the benefits of improved visibility and communication. Of course, there are challenges and missteps, but our mindset and retrospectives enable us to steer to the best course and improve. Any change is hard, but it beats the alternative.

Author Bio: Randy Rausch, director of technology – digital transformation, Eosys