sprint to excellence

and November 25, 2016

The concept of ‘lean,’ which focusses on the identification and elimination of waste, was originally developed and implemented by the manufacturing industry. However, now a number of other industries have started to apply this business improvement methodology to improve their process and product deliveries.

Lean emphasizes the importance of analyzing delivery methods from a customer’s perspective—every step of every process should add value; if it does not improve the value stream, then it is a waste and needs to be eliminated. Following this approach, instead of focusing on waste at isolated points, creates processes that need fewer resources to provide services at lower costs and with higher quality. This continuous incremental improvement leads to transformation into a lean organization. Such an organization focuses not just on tools, methods, and behavior, but also on attitudes and values.

Any organization can be made lean as long as the target remains in focus.

Operational excellence is at the core of our strategy as we seek to shape a sustainable future for our industry, and we execute our business within the realms of a deep-rooted value system that guides not just operations, but our behavior too. In our endeavor to create and deliver value for our customers and our business, we focus on improving not only resources but also flow efficiencies. Last year, we combined all improvement initiatives in a global program, #thejourney, targeting at least 30% increased cost efficiency in all parts of our business by the end of 2017.

Lean principles are a cornerstone of this program–the way we operate and continuously improve our business. As part of this, employees across the globe are being given basic training in ‘lean’, and are encouraged to apply this methodology to our daily operations. Most employees will undergo basic ‘lean’ training by the end of 2017.

 

Our lean methodology is based on four principles:

  • Understanding customer value and creating value from the customer perspective
  • Prioritizing value chain flow efficiency over resource efficiency
  • Visualizing work flow, progress, and performance
  • Working according to defined standards and continuously improve

 

In the service industry, work flows are traditionally centered on planning and scheduling the control objects in a sequential manner so as to enable overall project delivery. We generate detailed level-1, 2, and 3 schedules that help track the progress of key activities on a fixed timeline. Through practice, our work processes for most of the control objects are pretty well defined, structured, and standardized. However, the traditional flow has an inherent risk of creating silos in our execution, which in turn has a tendency to create roadblocks potentially affecting productivity.

With the aim to remain relevant and stay ahead of the competition, Aker Solutions India began a pilot project in embracing agile principles and transforming our project execution. If successful, this could bring about a step change in our productivity and quality of deliverables.

The majority of our projects are delivered through multi-disciplinary taskforces guided by the project management team. On large projects, the individual discipline teams itself are large and there is a general tendency to work in isolation, with focus limited to their deliverables.

On one of our current projects, we implemented a ‘focused team approach’ to define and prioritize targets. This was targeted at expediting delivery of certain key items influenced by multi-disciplinary tasks. The main change towards a more channelized execution was to break down the overall schedule into what could be accomplished in a set, short period, known as a ‘sprint’. This would be run by an empowered, cross-functional team focused on converting the product backlog to a working product.

In a business where resources are our biggest asset, the key to achieving a change in work processes lies in our ability to get the team to embrace the new approach. We decided to start small by identifying a few taskforce members, and involving them in the initial sprints. Their ability to see the value of the method, combined with a few visual tools, helped generate enthusiasm. As the word spread, the taskforce started appreciating that time is finite, and acknowledging that sprint could be instrumental in faster, smoother project execution.

In our sprint planning, we emphasized that ‘half done is not done’, as half-executed deliverables consume resources that could be used to create value elsewhere.

On the pilot project, we have chosen to run a monthly sprint. This is displayed to the taskforce on sprint boards, creating a visual impact for all the stakeholders and providing them an opportunity to refine their understanding of the requirements. The measured sprints have helped the project team pull in the same direction towards achieving a common project goal.

 

sprint building blocks

A structured approach is necessary in order to reap the benefits of the sprint approach. A few of the more important points to be kept in mind are mentioned below.

process masters: The cornerstones to the success of a sprint are the product owner and the scrum master*.
In our case, we selected the engineering manager as the product owner due to his insight into the specific requirements of the external stakeholder and understanding of the dynamics of the internal participants. The scrum master is the project’s planning manager, who facilitates the entire process and has helped build the project level-3 schedule.

sprint planning meeting: At the beginning of each sprint, the product owner and the team hold a meeting to negotiate which key products they will attempt to deliver.

While the product owner is responsible for defining which activities are the most important, the team decides the amount of work they feel can be achieved without accruing technical debt. The success of a sprint largely depends on the ability of the teams to collectively gauge their capacity, and accordingly commit to task completion.

As an outcome of the meeting, the teams break the selected activities into an initial list of linked discipline activities called sprint tasks, and make a final commitment on their respective tasks.

defined scrum and sprint execution: Twice a week, the teams spend fifteen minutes at the sprint board reporting to each other. This is known as the scrum, and is facilitated by the scrum master. Each team member summarizes his or her part of the task and its progress, what they will do today, and what impediments they face.

The intent is to facilitate the movement of the entire task from the ‘planned’ area of the board to the ‘completed’ column.

sprint review meeting: At the end of the sprint period, the product owner and scrum master present the status to the project manager and management representatives.

 

case study

On the sprint pilot project, the first priority was to generate construction input for the client. One of the first activities was pile driving/casting, hence the design and issue of piling drawings was time-critical.

 

Apart from the basic site condition overview, this required:

  • The location of equipment or structures for which pilings are being designed
  • The load of the equipment or loading on the structure
  • The dimensions of the equipment or structure
  • It was observed that for the canteen building, all the inputs were available, so this was taken up first.

Next, the dimensions of two large tanks were available, but the other input was not available. However, it was possible to generate these in a short span of time. So a cross-functional team was created to generate the input. The team worked out the loading data for the tanks and also confirmed their location, which enabled the issue of the related piling drawings to the client.

For two pipe racks, the tentative dimensions and location were available but the loading data had to be worked out. A similar concept of creating a small multi-discipline team was used. The team ensured that the missing pipeline sizes were worked out, and the loading was calculated accordingly. Subsequently the dimensions and location of the pipe racks were fixed, and these were used to issue the drawings to the client for construction.

The other pipe racks were not taken up for design, as a site survey was required before the coordinates and dimension could be fixed. Hence the necessary inputs were not available for release of the piling drawings. Although these activities were taken up in parallel, there were dedicated teams put on the four areas to ensure that the piling drawings were issued to the client as soon as possible.

 

challenges

During the implementation of any organizational improvement, one of the key challenges to overcome is inertia. An aversion to change is genetically pre-programmed as a survival tactic. However, it must be recognized that it can also lead to danger, especially in the fast-paced world of business. Every industry demands constant change and optimization, and an organization that remains static could become irrelevant.

One of the best ways to overcome this resistance is to convincingly prove the value of the new way of working. This can be achieved by utilizing various methods to track progress and improvement, so that results become tangible. It is also critical that the workforce become and stay interested in the new system. This can be achieved by ensuring it is both easy to understand and visually engaging. The change should not be implemented from top-down, but in a way that lets the organization feel ownership of the process.

Another deeper change required is the mental adjustment from ‘is this innovation good for the company?’ to ‘is it good for the customer?’ Innovation should fit the need. It needs to be continually emphasized that there is no bifurcation in interest, as a streamlined method of working is good for the customer and even better for the company in the long term.

 

conclusion

A collaborative, simultaneous approach to execution has consistently proved to improve productivity and reduce delays. While the adjustment process might take some time, the results speak for themselves, and encourage task force members to fully participate in the sprint process.

 

24 23