Digitalization has revolutionized the working world and posed new challenges for many areas such as project management. But how can companies adapt their working methods to these new circumstances? The solution: agile working models such as Scrum or Design Sprints. Both terms sound abstract at first but they stand for exciting new methods.
The origin of agile work lies in the field of IT, where the models were first developed and tested. After the new methods turned out to be very successful, other areas also became interested in this new type of project management.
But why is it necessary to change project management at all? Today’s working world is much more dynamic and works in shorter innovation and production cycles. In addition, technology is progressing faster and faster. Therefore, companies need to be able to react more quickly to unexpected events, problems or errors; they need to constantly evolve in order to stay up to date.
What does working agile mean?
The word "agility" is on everyone's lips. It stands for speed, transparency and flexibility – for example in connection with work processes. When working in an agile manner, it is important to set clear visions and concrete goals that – coupled with self-reliant teamwork – increase the responsiveness and efficiency of companies. This enables them to react appropriately to the increasing complexity and dynamics of the working world. In addition, special project management models such as Scrum or Design Sprints enable a fast and interactive way of working. Due to their short reaction time, they minimize both unforeseeable risks and red tape.
How are sprints connected to project management?
As in sports, a sprint is linked to completing a short section. In this case, however, it is not connected to a certain distance, but to a certain period of time. Project teams follow a plan that is designed for one- to four-week intervals. This allows large projects to be better structured and the subtasks within the sections to be more clearly divided. By planning in short intervals, teams can react quickly and adapt the procedure over and over without having to overturn the entire project. At the end of each sprint, the team meets to review the results and evaluate the completed sprint before immediately moving on to the next one.
Agile project management at Henkel
At Henkel, teams implement agile working methods too – for example in Amsterdam and Stamford. Christian Staudt is part of an agile team in Amsterdam. In addition to his work as a Global Layout Engineer, he has taken on a project for which he uses Scrum to check the key performance indicators (KPIs) in Henkel plants worldwide. To complete this task, "Plant Diagnostic Information Systems" are used to control data monitoring.
“Scrum is very useful for large, complex projects that run over a long period of time and can be divided into many small sections.”
Christian Staudt, Global Layout Engineer at Henkel
As of now, each site manually collects and shares its data in an Excel file. Staudt currently extracts all data once a month, which is very time-consuming due to the large amount of data. But this process could soon be a thing of the past: A program is currently being tested that automatically taps, links and networks the databases of the plants via the browser.
The project team uses Scrum as a project management method to process and evaluate the collected data. It measures the performance of the plants with the help of scorecards, which collect, visualize and process the data. In order to keep track of progress in the backlog, the team's tasks are divided into three neat columns. This division facilitates resource planning because the status can be easily analyzed during the sprint reviews. During these retrospective sessions, all events are evaluated, updates are given, and the workload and goals for the next two-week sprint are set.
How effective is a five-day sprint?
Sprints are also an essential part of the "Design Sprint" project management method developed by Google Ventures. The Integrated Business Solutions team at Henkel, located in Stamford, USA, is working on making complex IT systems and processes more user-friendly. Operating within this model involves developing possible solutions in a five-day period and testing them directly with customers. These short sprints offer a glimpse of the future finished product and customer’s reactions before making any expensive commitments.
“Design Sprints choose a path for you and give you flexibility when taking on and figuring out open ended, wicked problems.”
Shannon McDermott, Customer-Centered Design Lead at Henkel
During the sprint, the multidisciplinary team follows a strict order: the week starts with an analysis of the problem and setting a specific target. The following day, the team focuses on possible solutions looking for inspiration from other companies. However, since only one solution can be prototyped and tested, each proposal is critiqued and discussed, and a decision is made as to which one has the best chance of achieving the long-term goal. The selected solution is then turned into a prototype. On the last day of the sprint, the prototype is tested on real customers.
“This test really makes the entire sprint worthwhile: we have clarity on what worked and what didn’t, we are aligned on next steps, and we have the motivation to take this solution forward.”
Shannon McDermott, Customer-Centered Design Lead at Henkel
The American team is planning on doing a total of five sprints, over the next year. During this time, it also relies on the recruitment of new team members, who in turn, pass on their knowledge to their own teams. The aim is to establish a lasting foundation for a new, agile culture.
The team of eight from Stamford followed a structured plan during their first Design Sprint:
The week started off with analyzing the problem and picking the target of the Sprint.
On Tuesday, the team focused on collecting ideas and sketching possible solutions.
After critiquing each solution, the team decided which ones had the best chance of achieving their long-term goal.
On Thursday, the chosen idea was transformed into a prototype following a step-by-step plan.
On the last day of the sprint, the team tested the prototype on real customers.