Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

Reversing Fundamental Assumptions

October 1, 2019


In 2001, a group of software developers introduced the Manifesto for Software Development, now often referred to as the Agile Manifesto. Since that time, many manufacturing companies have begun to apply the manifesto’s 12 guiding principles, described recently in a Forbes article by author Steve Denning. Denning writes that agile management represents “a reversal of some fundamental assumptions of 20th Century management.”

A couple of examples of these fundamental assumptions relevant to metal formers:

  • Agile management values individuals (on the plant floor, for example) and their interactions over processes and tools; and
  • Agile management values customer collaboration over contract negotiations.

Applying agile principles to manufacturing means a commitment to continuous improvement, teamwork and technical excellence. This means not only investing in new technology, such as what you’ll see at FABTECH next month, but following through collaboratively on the shop floor to ensure optimum use of that new technology.

That’s a challenge, best met when company culture—an agile culture—fosters teamwork and communication on the plant floor. The future of your company, writes Denning, “depends on inspiring those doing the work to accelerate innovation and add genuine value to customers. …open, interactive conversations are more valuable than top-down directives.”

This agile management philosophy differs greatly from what many believed to represent management excellence just a few years ago. Top-down leadership through the early years of the new century focused on lean and Six Sigma. However, the decline of Six Sigma as an overall management philosophy has been well-documented in several studies and articles, including a recent article by Quartz editor Oliver Staley. Staley quotes PwC technology strategist Mike Pino, who says that disruptive innovation is discouraged at organizations built around Six Sigma.

Staley blames the decline of Six Sigma, in particular at GE, after decades of success at many manufacturing companies, to managers using the philosophy to focus on “marginal or even trivial improvements,” a poor use of resources. “Six Sigma became ritualistic and cultish,” says another management consultant interviewed by Staley, “because its practitioners focused on nomenclature and methods without understanding the theories undergirding them.”

Staley emphasizes that Six Sigma is not dead, it’s just not recommended as an all-encompassing management philosophy. Think of it as a skill, just another part of the training provided to employees. In its place steps agile.

Before sending a team from your company to FABTECH, take some time to research and discuss at your company the 12 principles of agile. This exercise might alter your thoughts regarding your short- and long-term approach to capital-improvement projects.

While I won’t list all 12 principles here, here are a few of the most important principles, enough to stir your interest:

  • Build projects around motivated individuals.
  • Insist on face-to-face (and frequent) communication among team members.
  • Retrospection is critical—teams should reflect often on how to become more effective.

Technologies: Management

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