Managing digital transformation in manufacturing: an agile or a waterfall approach?

Storey Parker
By Storey Parker | Project Manager, Mountain Point
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Digital transformation efforts require a thoughtful approach to change management

When we talk about the 4th industrial revolution, we don’t use phrases like “digital upgrades” or “digital tinkering” to describe the changes that are happening in manufacturing companies around the globe. Instead, we call it “digital transformation.” And that’s just what it is — a complete transformation of your systems, processes, habits, and culture.

But if you’re heading up your company’s digital modernization efforts, you know transformation doesn’t come easy. It requires a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to change management.

See also: Moving to a Cloud-Based Manufacturing Platform: What to Expect

In this episode of our Q&A Friday series, we explore ways for manufacturing companies to manage major organizational change and complex digital projects. We talk with Storey Parker, a digital project manager, who explains the importance of creating a project management framework to ensure effective communication, collaboration, and implementation. Storey walks us through the differences between waterfall and agile development techniques and explains how many manufacturers ultimately opt for a hybrid approach.





Have a question you’d like answered?

Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll talk through it on a future episode!


What's the ROI? Just six months after implementing their digital transformation efforts, luxury textile manufacturer Matouk saw a 233% return on their investments. 

Read the Matouk ROI report


Transcript: Managing Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

Jessica Vodden: Hi and thanks for joining us for another Q&A Friday, a regular series where we chat about issues facing manufacturing companies and the new world of industry 4.0. I'm Jessica Vodden, a team member here at Mountain Point and I'm joined by Storey Parker, a digital project manager, and Andrew Rieser, our co-founder and president. Hey, guys.

Storey Parker: Hey, Jessica. Good morning.

Andrew Rieser: Hey, Jess.

Jessica Vodden: So, we're really happy to have Storey chatting with us today, because she is an absolute expert project manager and can offer a lot of insight into how to manage major organizational initiatives, such as a digital transformation effort. And let me just note for those of you who are listening, if you didn't listen to last week's episode with one of our other project managers, Beth, you might want to check that out, because I think our conversation today we'll really build on those concepts and some of the talk that we started last week. And we're just going to dig a little bit deeper with Storey. So, Storey, welcome.

Storey Parker: Happy to be here.

Jessica Vodden: So, last week we talked about a basic framework for managing a digital transformation project and kind of set the baseline for expectations. This is not just a quick implementation typically. If you're really undertaking a full digital transformation effort, you're really undertaking some pretty massive cultural change within your company. There are a lot of different approaches to undertaking these types of efforts. Right? So, Storey, can you give me an overview of some of the standard frameworks for managing these types of initiatives and the sort of change?

Storey Parker: Yeah. Sure. Well, first of all, I appreciate that project manager accolade. I've been managing sales force implementation for a long time, and I'm happy to share my experiences with you. So, back to your question, the projects that we come across typically are managed using types of methodologies. We see a waterfall methodology, we see agile, and then something that we call an agile hybrid type methodology.

Jessica Vodden: Okay. So, tell me a little bit about, if I'm new to this, what do those mean? What's waterfall versus agile? And then, I'm assuming a hybrid is something in between?

Storey Parker: Yeah, I mean, so when determining the best methodology to apply to an implementation it's really a team effort, and we work as a partner with our customer. And, based on our years of experience, we know the look of certain types of projects, what type of methodology will be the best fit.

So, the waterfall approach, is more of a traditional approach to managing projects. It's where I personally have the most experience. It's the traditional SDLC with a focus on understanding the requirements and really documenting them up front. And it's the place where you have to complete each phase before going on to the next. And, if you revert back to a previous phase, it most likely causes some impact to timeline and budget. But projects that fit well here, they have requirements that can be fully fleshed out in the beginning, and well documented, signed off on it. It's sometimes is due to heavy compliance requirements, heavy documentation requirements.

So, then the next type of methodology that we use to manage projects is the agile approach. It's an [inaudible 00:02:58] project approach that focuses on the delivery of production ready functional components at the end of each iteration or sprint. And, in some cases, the clients that we have have a requirement to see value quickly, and they can't wait for a heavy documentation front end, like a waterfall approach. You know, in some cases we recommend the agile approach, but most importantly for that to work, the client needs to fully understand what agile methodology is and be willing to be highly involved in the project.

Some clients we work with are very familiar with agile, and they're used to running their internal projects using this type of methodology. So, in that case, agile is just a natural fit for them, and ultimately, what we're striving for is successful implementation.

Jessica Vodden: Okay, so tell me a little bit about- I get the concept of waterfall- which, if I'm understanding you correctly, it's maybe you have some constraints up front but you need to really sit down and kind of nail down with the entire project might look like from start to finish and kind of focus on that. Whereas agile is a little bit more chipping away at that problem piece by piece, if I'm understanding correctly. Is that fair?

Storey Parker: Yeah, I think that's pretty accurate.

Jessica Vodden: So, one of the things that I've noticed is that sometimes clients prefer that agile approach just because sometimes they actually don't quite know how to tackle the entire problem. Right? So, it's also sort of a learning experience. That being said, there's also this need at times to make certain that they're achieving certain outcomes. So, tell me a little bit about what the hybrid approach is like, and does that sort of satisfy both sides of that coin?

Storey Parker: Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day we're consultants and we need to be flexible and really have good conversations with our customers up front in the sales process and understand where they are in their maturity as an organization and be flexible. And, really, we see a push in the ecosystem and the types of projects that we are faced with more towards this agile approach. They need more of the best practices help. They benefit from seeing a prototype first or the first draft, if you will. Something that they can see and touch in a way and use and provide feedback to. They're not fully wanting or really able to commit to agile. Again, it's having the communication up front and understanding what the client's abilities are and how we can help them have a successful implementation.


What's the ROI? Just six months after implementing their digital transformation efforts, luxury textile manufacturer Matouk saw a 233% return on their investments. 

Read the Matouk ROI report


Jessica Vodden: Yeah. I think my takeaway from this is, we know the best practices in terms of project management, and managing change, and managing implementation, but we're going to do what works for you because not every company is the same, right? So, it's not a one size fits all sort of scenario.

One thing I'd kind of like to talk about and kind of shift gears toward is this concept of configuration control, which is kind of a techie term, I think, for really making sure that everybody's on the same page in terms of what's been done to the system. Because if we're working with a large organization, there could be multiple environments, there could be multiple stages, there could be certain things put in place by one team that have to stand, and then another team can come in and introduce a conflict. So, how do you manage all of those moving parts? What does that look like from your process as a project manager, and what are some best practices that our clients should consider whenever they're taking on a project like this?

Storey Parker: It's really a great question, and we could probably dedicate an entire to kind of where change control fits into the larger change management process. But-

Andrew Rieser: It's a story we often see, especially with our larger projects, that there is not only the internal Mountain Point team and user project manager, but oftentimes you're wearing the project manager hat on behalf of the customer as well, and they've got their own internal team, and resources, and stakeholders. And so, when you're balancing the business, IT, executive leadership, and everybody that kind of has a role and a responsibility into this large project. Oftentimes, having a structure in place is what keeps sanity in these projects. So, maybe you can explain kind of your experience in dealing with multiple stakeholders, in dealing with multiple environments, and then kind of keeping control in a project.

Storey Parker: Yes, I think that's a great question. We see a lot of customers that we work with and projects that we're a part of that they have the internal reasons to take on parts in the projects. So, we're not only just having to focus on managing our own team internally, but really having to come up with a process that we can both manage our internal resources, as well as have a clear communication path with the resources we're using with the customer.

Storey Parker: And I go back to having a clear understood standing in the beginning of the project of how we're going to manage the tools that we're going to use, the channels we're going to use to communicate, the types of documentation, the cadence of meetings. Having that full expectation of communication upfront, again, tying back in that agile hybrid type approach, we can have that agile type approach to a project. But having that clear definition of the change management plan and communication plan up front is important, especially when we're dealing with multiple environments, multiple sandboxes, multiple people developing. But we have the skillset here, the project management skills, to help manage all those moving parts.

Andrew Rieser: Yes. I think a reoccurring theme that we continue to hear, especially from our project managers like Storey, is communication and expectation management is a big piece of it. And so, having those strong communication skills to, not only share the best practices, but to keep everybody in alignment so that we're all after the same objectives and vision and can execute it. Because, otherwise, as you can imagine, things can quickly spin out of control from a scope, and schedule, and budget standpoint. So, it's great to hear that expectation management is always a part of it, and it starts right at the very beginning.

Jessica Vodden: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's a recurring theme of a lot of these conversations is just setting clear expectations. And, again, communicating is crucial. Over communicating, really, is key, as we try to manage a lot of these projects.

Well, guys, I won't take up too much of your time today, so we'll go ahead and sign off. Thanks again for chatting with me and for sharing some of your insight. For those of you listening, if you have a question you'd like us to answer or a topic that you want us to tackle, you can hit us up on our social media channels. You can email us, call us, we'd love your feedback. We'd love your advice. Guys, thanks again and happy Friday.

Storey Parker: Thanks, Jess. Happy Friday.

Andrew Rieser: Thanks, Jess. Thanks, Storey.


Topics: Digital Transformation

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