Scrum – an Agile Approach to Digital Transformation

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Scrum – an Agile Approach to Digital Transformation

In 500BC the Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu taught his commanders that quickness is the essence of war, and agility the hinge of battle. Sun Tzu’s wisdom 0f 2500 years ago is uniquely appropriate to us today as the fourth Industrial Revolution continues to unfold.  Above all, digital transformation is a culture change. Human Resource Executives will need to know how smart devices will alter their organization, modify the work force and cultivate productivity. Unfortunately, not all management individuals or levels within a manufacturing organization will grasp the vision and far-ranging potential of IoT. Your organization will likely need someone to function as both as a compass and a weathervane. The compass in you will point the way to productivity and the weathervane will perceive and nurture the level of acceptance and understanding with in your organization. Here are some concrete considerations concerning directions you can take, and implementations various management individuals and levels can adopt.

First, we need to really understand as to what Industrial Digital Transformation is. Digital Transformation is where your plant operations can be measured by physical science in which will allow you to perform data analytics.  We now see the resurfacing of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data as opportunities for advancement.  These opportunities all lead to better opportunities for plant operations, supporting our customers and of course plant profitability.

For your company to succeed it is important that we realize that a connected company is not a “One size fits all solution”.

This article outlines a successful methodology on getting your Digital Transformation underway in how to address your Portfolio, People, Process and Platform of a successful implementation of your Digital Transformation.

Your Plant’s Digital Transformation Team (DTT) should have a goal of revealing hidden opportunities for continuous operational improvement on the plant floor as well as enhanced product strategy in the market place. This can be done through collection and analysis of historical and real-time data.  Your team with the right attitude to work as a team and deliver a Digital Transformation project will need to have the following key attributes.

  1. Maintain the focus on your business goal.
  2. At team start up, write out rules of engagement. How you will work with each other. Its a good idea to keep a large print out of engagement rules posted and visible at each status meeting.
  3. Collaborate.
  4. Creativity …. Creativity……Creativity.

Once B.F Skinner American psychologist, author, inventor at Harvard College was ask about what was the most commonly missing element of all his students at Harvard.  His reply was “Creativity”.   But the question is, “Can Creativity be Learned”, I believe it can.  If you don’t believe that, it is recommended that you and your team review from YouTube the film ABC Nightline – IDEO Shopping Cart here is the link.

The methodology in which I have followed and that has led to project success is “Agile/Scrum” approach.   Using the right methodology can mean ROI measured in months and not years.  Why Agile?  Agile is at its best when you need to learn.  Agile describes a set of methodologies, aligned with lean principles for focusing on value and eliminating waste.    What is Scrum? Scrum in in rugby union is a way of restarting the game. It is a pack form one team pushes against another.  Scrum is a iterative and incremental framework that relies on collaborative, self organizing , adaptive teams.

Five values of Scrum:

  1. Focus: Because we focus on only a few things at a time, we work well together and produce excellent work. We deliver valuable items sooner.
  2. Courage: Because we are not alone, we feel supported and have more resources at our disposal. This gives us courage to undertake greater challenges.
  3. Openness: As we work together, we practice expressing how we are doing, and what’s in our way. We learn that it is good to express concerns,so that they can be addressed.
  4. Commitment: Because we have great control over our own destiny, we become more committed to success.
  5. Respect: As we work together, sharing success and failures, we come to respect each other, and to help each other become worthy of respect.

How to begin:

The starting point is all about finding the right project(s).  You need to initially find those projects that give you and your customers quick pay off.  You need to find those projects that are “Low Hanging Fruit”.   As you gain experience and have celebrated on your successes you will eventually select those hard to tackle projects that provide bigger pay off.  It is highly recommended that you pick projects that can be completed in twenty (20) business days or less.  The projects that you select must have the “Home Run” factor and most of all fills a need where it becomes a “MUST HAVE” for your customers and end users.

Trying to do everything all at once will cause you to fail.  Why? Your plant can not manage all that much change at once and change is too disruptive with out empirical proof. It is very important that you have all the prerequisites are in place, including infrastructure, a business case and the right team.  It is important that everyone is on board.  If your business is unwilling or unprepared, you will have wasted your time and the companies.

Story Boarding

Story Boarding is a technique to help you with your vision of a project.  A user/customer story is a high level description of desired functions and goals.  One example is to ask your user/customer “If you were traveling for business what six critical pieces of business/plant information would you need to know while you were traveling”.   You can provide a  Index card and have your user/customer write the six critical pieces of information down.  Here is an example:

As a Melting Supervisor I want to know:

  1. Chemistry
  2. Tons per hr.
  3. Charge Make-up
  4. Iron Temperature
  5. Tap out minutes to open and close hole
  6. Staffing for the day.

So I can know the health of my department from my IPHONE/IPAD.

Here is another one:

As management, I want to know:

  1. Cash Collected
  2. Tons Sold
  3. Tons Shipped
  4. of Quality complaints and details if needed.
  5. Cash in Bank
  6. Forecasted Sales

Again these are just examples and projects can range be of most any nature.  Once you select the project, the team can create acceptance criteria.  Using the Iron Temperature as an example the team will decide on where the data is found.  It can be from a sensor or initially if it is hand entered every hr. Into your plant production system that is OK to start with when you prototype.  You can later use a sensor to obtain your data. Once your Story Board matures, the team will start the task of planning out the design such as where all the data is coming from, what the screen looks like, validation criteria and what technology (Citix?) you will use for the IPhone/IPAD.  Yes, this can be done within twenty business days or less.

Your team should consist of no more than five (5) – Nine (9) individuals. We recommend General Manager or Plant Manager and other individuals consisting of different functional areas. The people on the team need to have the Zig Zigler frame of mind, or the “Can Do Attitude”.  You also need people that just won’t give up.  If your plant has a morning meeting of key managers, that may be the best resource pool.  It is important that one member is from your Information Technology department to aid in overseeing any programming or computer resources needed.  While establishing governance it is important that you set up the following structure of personnel. 

Product owner:

  • Owns the project vision.
  • Guide the team with information
  • Makes trade off decisions
  • Accepts or rejects work.
  • The Product owner “Builds the Right Thing”.


  • Acts as a change agent
  • Ensures productivity
  • Makes sure that there is collaboration
  • Makes project team meetings happen frequently in which team members report whats completed and what they are working on.
  • Addresses team issues.
  • Watches work to minimize disruption
  • Minimize WIP

The Team:

  • Creates detailed plans
  • Leads execution
  • Focuses on steady delivery of high quality features
  • Generates options for Product owner.
  • Manages own work.

The most effective team is one that is on-site and working together and meeting at least once a day reporting back accomplishments and what they are working on next and communicating any bottle necks.  Its important that every one is kept on the same track.  Encouraging creativity is extremely important during your team meetings.

Your First Project

Seeing is believing and the reason that your plant needs to pick the right first project. You need to make sure all the prerequisites are in place. Your prerequisites are selecting the right team members, the right business case and the talent both technically and business wise, training resources are available, the right governance method, and making sure your project is compliant to your company’s way of thinking.

The first thing to do is to assemble your project team members. The second most important item is to understand and learn “Agile” and being creative. The Start Phase is about starting with a small project that can be completed in twenty days or Less.  Your project needs to create value and have a “Home Run” factor.  Just don’t pick any project.  Your projects impact needs to radiate through out your plant and your Division.

Your main goal is to demonstrate that your team can deliver and bring a new idea to reality. You want your application to get a “Big Bang for your Buck”.  The key is fast results.

Your first project needs to be highly visible in your Plant. You need to have the support of your management team and there must be a sense of urgency.  Most important of all, the deliverable must provide a quantifiable business value and something everyone wants to have.   Your success needs to spread like wild fire throughout your plant.

Each Plant operates differently. The benefit of Scrum/Agile is your team’s ability to make decisions quickly and that everyone is on board with the decision.  It is easy to slow a project down when you have multi departments on your team with different wants. Sometimes, you may be better to limit your first project to just one department.   What you are looking for is user/team involvement with higher team acceptance.   To the point your goal is to demonstrate creativity and collaboration.

To celebrate your success in little as 20 days you need to eliminate as best as possible your dependences on out side factors.  If your project is based upon building a new bridge from your Casting Machines PLC to your ERP system and the person that can do the work is working on another priority your project will be at risk.  If you require hardware and the delivery date is 10 days, you are at risk.  It is important to note; that if you are able to use third party tools such as spread sheets or simplistic engineering software rather than building your bridge via complex computer code you may be better off. You can always go back after you have obtained the “Home Run” and build the bridge with a permanent solution.

Proto typing is a good approach to create energy and excitement within your team.  As we stated, “Seeing is believing”. Proto typing gives you the opportunity to see and feel your project come to life. Proto typing gives you the opportunity to test the project and work out any bugs or missing processes.   If you decide to put your project into production, it is important that you have a back out plan that wont impact the operation of your plant.

You will know that you picked the right project when your colleagues approach you and ask if they can use your product or when another plant wants to learn on how you did it.  By picking the right project you have demonstrated the following.

  1. You can develop a high value application in a short time frame of 20 days or less.
  2. Business, The Plant Floor and Technology can do great things together.
  3. You can do great things with small teams and low cost.
  4. You are creative!
  5. You will have learned the knowledge of Agile and can do it again and again and again.
  6. Will have demonstrated your value to the business and will feel great with your achievement.

Here again,  the ancient General Sun Tzu can offer you support: “If you know your enemy,” he said, “and if you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.


Norman-RankisThis article was written by Norman Rankis, the Information Technology & Automated Process Controls Manager for McWane Ductile of New Jersey. He has an extensive background in Information Technology and Higher Education. He was the first College Chancellor in the history of Gibbs College which opened in 1950. He also served as guest faculty for U.S Homeland Defense agencies, specializing in Cyber Security. He has been used as a  resource specialist for the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and the Miami Herald.