How to Use Agile for Rapid Continuous Improvement Results

How to Use Agile for Rapid Continuous Improvement Results

Continuous improvement efforts outside of our organizations have extra variables that can slow down critical cost savings. In a more predictably unpredictable world, how then do we consistently generate supply performance results on time and within budget?

Current events like the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, along with ongoing macro trends like working remotely, have brought to light a need for more flexible approaches to executing continuous improvement projects. Existing proven lean tactics will continue to enable success; however, our more virtual environment calls for new collaboration tools to empower teams to accomplish more in less time.

Implement Cloud Software

As author Antoine de Saint Exupery once said, “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This is a core tenant of the lean mindset. Often, we seek to focus on practical, low- to no-tech solutions that enable sustainable process changes, and this approach is often the right one for plant floor refinements that involve people and machines. Afterall, software is a tool to help with a task, but it’s not always the right tool.

The tracking of our many and varying continuous improvement initiatives across our organization, as well as outside of it, requires a fresh review. This manual process, often involving Microsoft Excel spreadsheets being passed back and forth via email, slows our ability to achieve results. Further, high-touch exchanges are more prone to human error.

Implementing an Industry 4.0 perspective, digitizing select processes that improve speed and results applies here. Plus, by adding a software tool we can eliminate many emails and offline, manual processes and activites. In the case of continuous improvement projects, the right application of Agile Project Management software can quickly free up your time to do more.

Collaborate in Real Time

Our suppliers are separate entities and meeting in person isn’t necessarily the best option these days if it’s even an option at all. So, we need to embrace newer software tools that can help us maintain and, in most cases, bridge information flows. Select Agile Project Management software tools offer the ability to maintain continuous improvement projects in collaborative cloud environments where users can simultaneously view, edit, and assign tasks. This real-time management of project statuses allows buyer and supplier teams to enhance productivity by reducing non-value-adding data exchanges.

Develop an Agile Points System

Forward-thinking leaders are applying Agile best practices to better manage supply chain projects. Simple, yet powerful methods such as assigning points to tasks allows for more accurate forecasting of project completion dates and team bandwidth. As an example, a more difficult delivery optimization route planning project might involve two buyer team members and four supplier team members. In total the project could equate to 100 tasks that need to be completed before delivery routes can be changed from once daily supplier full truckload deliveries to twice daily multi-supplier milk run deliveries.

Easier tasks are worth fewer points and typically assigned to more junior team members, while difficult tasks are worth more points and assigned to experienced team members. Task difficultly and assignment can vary, and task workloads can be better balanced using an Agile points system. More experienced team members can typically complete more points than less experienced team members over a given time. The difficultly and total task points a team member can complete in each time period also facilitates a more quantitative metric from which to provide ongoing coaching and advancement.

As with other applications of Agile, points are assigned by a manager at the start of a new period called a sprint, which usually lasts a set duration of two weeks. Assigning points to tasks is like a quality process in that you can quickly determine your current-state run rate after a few short sprints to establish your baseline. Once you have your baseline you can improve upon it. Internally you can foster a more engaged team that can accomplish more with better workload balancing. Externally you can better pace your suppliers’ progress, better ramp up new partners and lower the cost, time, and risk of continuous improvement project management.

Benchmark for the Future

Digitizing your continuous improvement efforts has additional long-term benefits that are starting to gain traction. Agile Project Management software tracks project key performance indicators (KPIs) via dashboards allowing leaders to address challenges more quickly. Software also allows teams to view task statuses in real time, fostering a more responsive supply chain that’s required in a consistently changing world.

Post project, a treasure trove of closed task notes, durations and leads can be mined for further waste reduction opportunities. Advancements in the analysis of this big data can be quickly pulled from projects via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) analyzed and distilled into practical insights via integrated machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

Conclusion

To attack our most pressing improvement opportunities we need to be open to all tools that could eliminate waste. The practical application of Agile Project Management software to replace manual processes offers us a better path forward for accelerating continuous improvement results.

-William