Autonomous Project Execution – Develop the culture to deliver

Autonomous Project Execution – Develop the culture to deliver

Companies large and small have discovered the benefits of autonomous project execution in combination with short go-to-market cycles as seen in Design Thinking, Scrum & Agile and the LEAN continuous improvement concept of PDCA. Dynamic teams of experts and developers are assigned objectives and within the scope of the project, they will explore and deliver the optimal solutions. Decisions are made by the team based on facts and findings, and the unknown is tested as early as possible. By breaking down the larger objectives in smaller stages, results can be battle-tested in the field much quicker and improvements find their way into operations long before the final products and processes are launched.

The involvement of experts, technicians and developers, but also for example sales specialists and marketing experts throughout the delivery cycles, require availability and involvement of these resources for the team, without which the project would be doomed to fail. The involvement of these resources provide such significant benefits that every organization should make sure that they are available. The continuous exchange and review of information and findings between the members of the team eliminate the dreaded “but that is not what the customer wanted” and the even worse “but that is what the specification says”. This involvement throughout the process also leads to natural knowledge transfer within the team and organization.

The sales expert involved in the cyclic development and releases of a new fantastic line of products, has already a good understanding of the USP’s and values long before the final product release is supported by a marketing campaign. At the same time, the feedback from this sales expert and the early testing of components, allow the team to delivery just what the market is waiting for. The maintenance expert involved in developing the next upgrade of a work cell, has the opportunity to make sure that the modifications lead to improved accessibility and can make sure that the optimal maintenance strategy is developed and tested prior to the rollout throughout the factory. By involving the future operator of the improved work cell, focus on handling and optimized TPM become part of the development cycles, and the future trainer of other operators and supervisor is already all set to enable the organization to rollout and sustain the improvements.

Key to benefiting from these opportunities is to grow a culture which fully supports and understands the ins and outs of autonomous project delivery. None of this works when the principles and requirements are not carried and understood throughout the organization. From the top executives to the operators at machines, and from the head of engineering to the technician responsible for the implementation, even suppliers and contractors must all support and understand the principals of autonomous project delivery. And unfortunately, this is where many organizations face significant challenges. Although the benefits of autonomous project execution in combination with short go-to-market cycles are understood and desired, many organizations struggle to create empowered dynamic teams and ensure the availability of resources.

Another hurdle to take for many organizations is the acceptance that scope and timeline are not written in stone with autonomous project delivery in the same manner these would apply to classical rigid and controlled delivery methods. There is no room for “deliver these features by that date” in the classical manner when searching the benefits of autonomous project delivery. The assignment should be “give me the best benefits as soon as possible” as starting point of an exploring development and delivery.

Quoting Alex Yakyma “Executing fixed-scope projects with Agile is akin to rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic… creates a great sense of security and order but we know how it all ends. It also makes it harder to ever change that organization’s mindset, as the leadership has now appropriated a nice Agile badge while sustaining the old belief system – a really bad combination.”.

Unfortunately I don’t remember who exactly said this, but it is by far my favorite statement from a discussion among LEAN Agile Coaches: “we wanted to go to the zoo but it started to rain and we learned that a storm was coming so we decided to turn around and watch a documentary about wildlife“. To make and execute such decisions based on learnings, the team must be and feel both accountable and empowered. Accountable for delivering the optimal benefits under the given circumstances and empowered to make decisions based on learnings and findings.

Being accountable versus feeling accountable is in most cases akin to organizational hierarchy versus emotional perception of responsibilities. With the complexity of large matrix organizations, the gap between being empowered by the organization and feeling empowered in the daily role can become of such magnitude that a theoretically fully empowered team-lead still needs to request hierarchical approval for even the smallest changes. Successful Executives have learned through emotional competence that feeling empowered is not the result of an updated Org-Chart. Regardless if LEAN, Agile, Design Thinking, or a wonderful mix of those, to benefit from autonomous project delivery the organization needs to develop the culture to deliver, sustain and improve with empowered and accountable teams. And that takes significant emotional competence.

See also the related workshop Mind over Matter – Develop the culture to deliver in LEAN PDCA, Agile and Design Thinking

Source: Narrative to the workshop Emotional Competence in Autonomous Project Delivery by dr. ir Johannes Drooghaag