Job Shop Insights


Agile Methodology — What Is It, and Is My Job Shop Ready?

Jul 12, 2018
By: Thomas P. Schiesl

Incorporating Agile Values

If your job shop has been around for a while, you’ve likely heard of agile manufacturing and how it can improve production efficiencies and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. Since the concept at its core is a methodology intended to streamline processes, understanding how it can specifically be applied to the unique practices of your job shop can be confusing.

This post peels back the layers of agile to show you how the methodology can impact an organization, and to help you assess your situation to determine whether incorporating agile is right for your job shop.

What is the Agile Methodology?

The goal of any manufacturer, whether big or small, is to stay ahead of the competition. Gaining and keeping market share is crucial to a company’s long term success. Some job shops determine that the way to reach this goal is to save money or optimize operations. Yes, both are critically important; but an agile approach puts customer fulfillment and satisfaction as the number one priority, and cost savings and improved quality are inevitable end results.

To achieve this, according to agile methodologies, a mind shift needs to occur, and managerial roles within a company need to differ from those of traditional manufacturers. Typical bureaucracy, micromanagement, and departmental silos need to be dissolved, and a new culture of transparent communication, self-organization, and empowerment needs to take its place. Teams are no longer defined as a single department; instead, they include members of various roles across departments so that cross-functional collaboration takes place, inefficiencies are revealed, and continuous improvement becomes a mantra.

What’s the Difference Between a Traditional and Agile Approach?

Traditional Approach

The companies that are often most reluctant to adopt an agile approach are those steeped in traditional hierarchy, where leadership is convinced their workforce isn’t experienced enough, motivated enough, or adaptable enough to change the way things are done. The reality is, it’s often the management that’s unwilling to adapt, and employees are eager to rise above the mediocrity that’s expected of them. Management wrongly assumes that closer supervision and micromanagement will result in greater productivity and quality.

A traditional culture is rooted in rigid processes, and narrow-focused policies that discourage any deviation from the chain of command or breaking of the rules. There is a “this is the way we’ve always done it” approach, and past failed attempts at changing processes are often touted as reasons for staying on the current path. Companies that are resistant to change in an ever-changing marketplace inevitably lag behind the competition in production, quality, and the race to market.

Agile Approach

An agile approach assumes people are competent, creative, and highly capable. Because of its team approach, members aren’t solely held responsible by a manager, but by the whole group. Expectations collectively rise and so does performance, and team members are empowered to make decisions, hold each other accountable, and implement improvements to processes and the overall operation.

An agile culture doesn’t necessarily focus on process as the main goal, but on whether a quality product was produced and the customer was happy. Granted, following processes plays a role in helping the team delight that customer, but those processes aren’t set in stone. Instead, they are iteratively improved, tweaked and sensibly streamlined to further improve the end results.

Implementing an agile approach in your job shop will transform management practices and improve employee satisfaction. It takes a willingness on the part of management to empower employees to problem-solve, innovate, and organize in a way that brings all areas of your company together to collaboratively succeed.

If increasing throughput, invigorating your employees, and generating greater customer satisfaction is an objective of your business, then it’s time to consider an agile approach. If you’re not sure how to get started, talk with the consultants at Wipfli. We can assess your unique situation and develop a custom solution to help you drive process improvement, build robust teams, and reveal the true benefits of adopting an agile culture.


Thomas P. Schiesl, CISA
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