Not Your Father’s Project: Agile for Digital Transformation

By Mark Sen Gupta

Industry Trends

Industrial projects execute the same way as they have for decades; waterfall.  The waterfall requires all aspects of the project to be scoped out, then estimated to within some small percentage of accuracy, then designed in its entirety, etc.  The benefit is you need to have your ducks in a row before hand and everyone understands what is happening when you begin and what to expect.  Unfortunately, it can’t deal with change easily, tends to spend a lot of time and money before a benefit is realized, and it carries a high project schedule risk.

Agile for Digital Transformation Reduces Risk

Most transformation-related technologies for the industrial sector are software heavy.  This is an important aspect when considering the agile methodology, because it is the preferred methodology for software projects.  Why?  It reduces risk and accelerates the realization of benefits.

Agile for Digital Transformation Agile%20Process.JPG

Just like waterfall, you begin with the end in mind, but you get there in small steps.  This is done with mini-projects that move toward the goal.  Because the projects are small in scope and short in duration, it allows for easy redirection, AND it can provide incremental benefits.  This reduces risk and increase return over time.  This is important, because industrial companies are engaging in technologies and methodologies in which they have no experience.  Notwithstanding, technologies are moving exceedingly quick, meaning that the technology horse you pick to ride today, may be worthy of the pasture next week.  

I had a customer tell me, “We didn’t know what we didn’t know until we started looking.”  He continued by stating that they didn’t even know enough to ask questions.  This customer basically threw a bunch of data at a couple of data scientists to see where it would go.  This experience turned out to be crucial, because most industrial personnel have little experience with data science, and most data scientists have little industrial experience.  If this is the case for you, how would you even frame a major project using a waterfall approach?

One challenge to changing this mindset is few project teams in manufacturing have an ‘agile’ background.  It is a mindset change not only for the project team, but for management.  If one theme is consistent about digital transformation, change has got to be one of the top ones.

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