Implementing Agile in Production

Implementing Lean Manufacturing, Kaizen, 6 Sigma, World Class Manufacturing and even models of excellence such as EFQM have allowed thousands of companies around the world to generate profits and overcome all kinds of adversities in recent decades.


Production, led by the automotive industry, has been the mirror for other sectors to look at, such as health, construction, food, retail, services or pharmaceuticals.




However, things have changed in recent years 


The irruption of exponential technologies, the race for digitalization, the battle for data and the increase of processing capacity have changed the environment in which organizations and people operate.

A scenario where the rules of the game have changed, where experience is not valued and where uncertainty is part of normality.


We are living a unique moment, in a time of exponential change and we are witnessing how once powerful business sectors like telephony or banking are being violently disrupted by new organizations with new structures and new management models, much more dynamic and agile.


High Performance Organizations that face practically whichever challenge with a courage unknown until now, challenge large corporations with battalions of hyperconnected self-organizing teams all over the world.


There seems to be a general consensus that the authorship of this important change is due to the Agile movement, and that its epicenter is located in Silicon Valley.



Somewhere between skepticism and ignorance


However, leaving authorship aside, there is no doubt that Agile is permeating all business sectors, with manufacturing being no exception.


Due to an excess of zeal, perhaps by a loss of protagonism or a prolonged disconnection from the external reality, the manufacturing sector seems to fight the Agile movement, showing a lack of interest as well as skepticism and distrust.


«We are an automobile manufacturer, not a company that produces screws»,

«Agile in production will not work in organizations as large as ours», 

«Agile in production only works for service companies»,

«We already run an improvement program that has been working for years»,


are some of the responses we receive from the manufacturing sector when we propose an implementation of Agile in production.


To be honest, given the amount of uncertain and confusing information that exists at this time concerning Agile at this time, we can understand that the manufacturing sector is hesitant to embrace Agile as a solution to change.





To shed some light on the matter… 


Agile is not about setting up Kanban panels or going to a Scrum course. It’s neiter about changing the name of the Lean Manager to Product Owner, nor about digitizing the entire company to become a true 4.0 gold-standard company. 


It is true that the current significant technological changes, like 3D printing, with the recent addition of metals to its catalog of raw materials or the growing irruption of collaborative robots that work in tune with people especially affect manufacturing.  

Agile is not about buying technology, but about creating the right environment for self-organizing teams to lead the development of a proprietary technology that quickly responds to customer needs by leveraging massive, relevant data.

But despite the skepticism of the manufacturing sector, there are some facts that encourage optimism.


First of all, let’s remember:


In history, the manufacturing sector has demonstrated its ability to achieve very difficult transformations such as moving from mass production to One Piece Flow production).

This apparently simple paradigm shift required the modification of an entire production and supply chain system, focusing the complete organization to meet immediate customer demand instead to produce to stock.


A change that also helped to understand companies as value chains and not as watertight departments, provoking in turn new capacities in people and leaders.


This is why we know about the transformation capacity of manufacturing companies.


Another important aspect is to highlight that the majority of those companies, that had implemented Lean Manufacturing for years of work, were able to modify the design of their organization, dividing it into production units, generally called mini-companies or APUs (Autonomous Production Units).


This type of organizational design is totally in line with the ‘destructuration’ promoted by Agile transformations and consequently, these companies already have a long way to go.


Another phenomenon that needs to be underlined is the fact that many manufacturing companies are using startups as an element of change.


There is a wide variety of initiatives to make several startups compete for very different purposes. Some are used to create a novel product, others to develop a defined technology and others are used simply to buy the data they obtain.


This connection with startups enables manufacturing companies to realize a faster working speed than in their own organization. 


It also offers them the possibility to work with multiple alternatives simultaneously, to obtain data quickly and above all to see how the teams develop at a breathtaking speed.



How to tackle Agile in manufacturing companies:


Since Agile is not a methodology but a different way of working, it can be implemented from different parts of the organization.



From our point of view:


Any project, any initiative or any issue arising can be solved with Agile, provided the organization is able to create the right environment for it to be led by synchronized self-organizing teams, focused on achieving business objectives and placing the customer at the center of the organization. 


Agile Manufacturing is a matter of time.


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