February 9, 2019

Agile approaches to project and program management are on the rise. Once a subset of software development methodology, agile methods, which include iterative planning and more adaptive approaches to change and risk management, are now employed across the enterprise and in a wide variety of industries.

Manufacturing Organizations Struggle with Agility, Industry TodayManufacturing organizations comprised one of the largest groups of respondents in a recent survey by PM Solutions Research, The Adaptive Organization, which focused on the success factors for companies implementing adaptive methods. However, although the interest in adaptive project management is strong among manufacturers, their success rates lag behind other industries.

Participants in the study were asked if they used traditional (“predictive”) project management methods, adaptive (includes agile) methods, or a hybrid of the two. They indicated the percentage of projects for which they used each method, and scored their capability and success rate for each method. They also scored the adaptive skills of their leaders and teams. Finally, they were asked about their training programs, organizational structure, and the challenges they faced in trying to implement adaptive methods.

Manufacturers lagged behind the average in almost all areas. While the average percentage of projects using adaptive methods was 22%, manufacturers reported trying these methods on only 11% of their projects. Manufacturers in the study also rated their capability with adaptive methods much lower: only 20% said they were “capable or very capable,” while 33% reported higher capability on average.

One surprise in the study was that there was no particular adaptive technique that stood out as a best practice. According to PM Solutions Co-CEO Deborah Crawford, “Success with adaptive approaches seems to be more linked to a mindset that embraces change, than to any particular technique or methodology.” That said, the manufacturing organizations in the study seem to lean harder on methodology than the average. For instance, 70% reported using Scrum (vs. the average of 67%), 55% use Lean methodologies (vs. 49%), and 55% say they employ Kanban (vs. 38%).

At the same time, the manufacturers reported facing more severe challenges than the average, as can be seen in the table below:

Manufacturing Organizations Struggle with Agility, Industry Today

Poorer success rates and greater challenges are perhaps explained when you look at the sections of the study that rate managers and teams on their adaptive skills and behaviors. Leadership in manufacturers scores significantly lower on:

  • Promoting collaboration and conversation within and between teams
  • Supporting teams through coaching, mentoring, and encouragement
  • Advocating for team member training and career development
  • Celebrating team successes.

The teams themselves fared a little better, keeping pace with the average on factors like collaborative skill, keeping a cool head under stress, and being able to cut through nonessentials to focus on the most important work. However, they still lagged behind the average on a number of important behaviors and skills:

  • Communication, including giving and receiving feedback
  • Growth mindset (believing they can learn new skills)
  • Organizational ability

Most important, they scored low on experience with adaptive methods.

To be fair, even the highest-performing organizations in the study struggle with many of these behaviors and skills. But one sharp difference is that, where average or high-performing organizations lack skills, they are much more likely to employ outside experts to fill the gap. Only 26% of manufacturers use contracted resources to help with adaptive projects and programs, compared to 46% on average.

To Improve, Put a PMO in Charge and Train, Train, Train

Study results point to two areas where organizations can begin in order to improve adaptability. First, more capable organizations in the study are much more likely to put a Project Management Office (PMO) in charge of adaptive efforts: 65% of organizations, on average, employ this strategy, compared to only 58% of manufacturers. The PMO also serves as a center for adaptive training and development, and training stands out as a key differentiator for more successful organizations in the study. In fact, the average organization trains far more on almost every topic; manufacturers train far less even in the methodologies they use most frequently:

Manufacturing Organizations Struggle with Agility, Industry Today

More Resources on Adaptive Project Management for Manufacturing:
Free webinar, February 20, 2018: “How Adaptive is Your Organization?”

Manufacturing Case Studies: https://www.pmsolutions.com/case-studies/category/manufacturing/

Manufacturing Organizations Struggle with Agility, Industry TodayJeannette Cabanis-Brewin (jcabanis-brewin@frontier.com) is the co-editor, with Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, of The AMA Handbook of Project Management, Fifth Edition (HarperCollins Leadership, 2018) and editor-in-chief of the research division of PM Solutions, a project management consulting and training firm. For her writing on project management topics, she received a Distinguished Contributions Award from the Project Management Institute in 2007.

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