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Part 3: How to Implement Agile Best Practices

By: Simon Spencer

March 11, 2020

Part 3: How to Implement Agile Best Practices

No matter how scary it may seem, leaving things as the status quo costs more in the long run than the potential expenses of implementing agile best practices.

In part 1 of the series, we examined how to retain employee knowledge before you lose it and the real cost of inactivity due to fearing the wrong monster.

In part 2, we looked at overcoming your resistance to change with work instructions.

But just how exactly do you successfully implement agile best practices? In this third part of the series, we’re going to break down the process by first looking at a few project basics, setting SMART goals, and establishing the scope of the project.

In essence, we’re going to take the monster apart and tackle it piece by piece. We’ll walk through a hypothetical work instruction implementation project with the goal of not only educating you, the reader, but also providing an actual project plan you can use in your own facility. So let’s get started.

First, Establish Project Basics

When tackling any project, including the hypothetical work instruction project that we will cover later in the article, there are fundamental considerations to address. Neglecting these basics can result in problems throughout the project, such as shortcomings in project goals and return on investment (ROI).

We’ll use the 4 elements listed below as an outline for this article and a guide for our hypothetical work Instruction implementation project.

  • Strategic Planning: Goal setting and scoping
  • People: Direct project involvement and leadership
  • Resources: Identify people, time, money, equipment required & ROI
  • Communication: Convince stakeholders about the benefits of the project, performance monitoring & data sharing.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into each element and tie it back to our work instruction implementation project.

Use SMART Goals for Strategic Planning

Successful strategic planning requires a SMART project plan. The SMART approach needs to be applied everywhere in a project and not just in the plan. It’s also at this stage that most people suffer from expectation failure and where expectation overload occurs. SMART planning throughout the project will produce better results.

SMART Project Plan

Each letter in the SMART acronym refers to a different objective your goals need to have:

Specific - Make sure your objectives, goals and tasks are specific. Clearly state what’s expected, who is doing it, when it should be completed and more importantly why it has to be done.

Measurable - Each objective, goal and task must be measurable. Clearly state what is being measured, why it’s important and how you plan to record and report the data.

Achievable - The Objective and goals must be attainable, both in terms of the actual tasks required to achieve the objective and within the time frame provided.

Relevant - The goal must align with both the project and strategic business objectives to be considered worthwhile. Extracting ROI from irrelevant goals is far-reaching and nonsensical.

Time-Bound - Each objective, goal, and task MUST have a date in which it should be achieved. Meeting timelines on tasks contribute to achieving the overall project goals and objectives.

Then, Set a Goal for Your Project

Let’s start by developing a sample goal for our hypothetical project. As you can see, we kept emphasizing the project goal, improving with each one, until all the SMART requirements were met.

Setting a Goal

And Finally, Think About the Project Scope

Creating a project scope is a critical part of every project. The scope is designed to define the boundaries of the work, establish roles for project team members and establish processes for validating the completion and accuracy of completed work. Given these facts, the scope should avoid vagueness at all costs.

Project Objective

Now Let’s Imagine an Example: Your Work Instruction Implementation Project

To illustrate how you can implement industry best practices, we’re going to use an example that is becoming increasingly rampant across shop floors today.

Let’s say you make it your goal to implement digital work instructions across your company and you name your endeavor: The Work Instruction Implementation Project. You also decide on the following benchmarks:

Project Objective: Reduce process-related scrap and rework by 40% by creating and deploying detailed visual work instructions throughout all Assembly Department processes.

Project Assumptions:

  • The VKS work instruction software is available with adequate licenses to ensure a successful deployment.
  • Bi-weekly project updates will be held to inform stakeholders of progress, with the agenda being shared 1 day before.

Deadlines & Deliverables:

  • Week 1: User setup defining roles
  • Week 2: Detailed value stream map detailing all Assembly processes
  • Week 3: Initial draft visual work instruction version of each process
  • Week 4 & 5: Complete edits of draft versions
  • Week 6: Publish all production work instructions
  • Week 7: Train operators on the system
  • Week 8: Roll out new visual work instructions lines 1, 2, 3
  • Week 9: Feedback sessions and improvements

Acceptance Criteria: All deliverables will be confirmed as complete and accurate by the Project Manager prior to proceeding to the next item

Technical Requirements:

  • All new work instructions must meet ISO 9001 minimum standards
  • All new work instructions will be completed in the VKS application
  • All new work instructions must include at a minimum, work order traceability, serialization and meet minimum data collection requirements

Limits & Exclusions:

  • The scope of this work extends only to manufacturing-related assembly documentation
  • Other manufacturing and support departments are not included unless it contributes to the completion of Assembly department documentation. Decisions on extending the scope in this context are placed with the Project Manager.

Reaching Consensus

When you put a plan together to improve an aspect of your company's work-life, you always need to obtain approvals so you can put it in place. Invariably many different members in your company will be affected by your project and will have expectations on its final outcome. With this in mind, you need to clearly define who are the stakeholders for your project.

Once you know who these people are, you need to write your project scope to directly speak to them. For example, if you are implementing a work instruction software, you need to show how it will directly improve the lives of each individual involved.

Let’s pretend we have for objective to implement a software which can easily create and share work instructions in seconds, that has live notifications for Quality support and productivity flags when issues arise.

We might then set 3 goals:

  1. Improve quality processes, traceability, and reporting. a. Live quality response to the shop - reduce stop time due to quality by 50% (saving approx 30 minutes per day of stoppage time ($150/day saving). b. Quality process maintained consistently - no need for quality follow-ups to ‘backdate’ information, saving approx 1 hour per day of non-value add time ($300/day saving) . c. Automatic reporting - no need for report mangling, saving approx 1 hour per day of non-value add time ($300/day saving.)
  2. Implement proactive monitoring of productivity a. Live productivity control - reduce lost time by proactively making improvements. Estimated productivity improvement of 5% (equates to $1000/day saving.)
  3. Free up of manpower to create a Kaizen Team a. Manpower saved from above can become our much-needed ‘Vacation backup’ or ‘ Emergency support’ team for the shop floor. b. When not required for point ‘a’, they are actively targeting further continuous improvement projects and are a source of project manpower. (Based on our current turnover rate, they can be absorbed back into production within 6 months of the project completion.)

At a glance, the project approver can see the savings, the Quality manager can see the benefits and the Quality members know their jobs are going to improve and become more proactive than reactive.

They also know that an improvement team will be implemented in which the extra time saved can be put forward to create more savings.

This is just an exactly and each project will vary, but everyone’s questions and uncertainties need to be answered in any case. With everyone fully aware and 100% in favor of the project, you are far more likely to meet or exceed your project expectations.


The success of any project depends on the people leading the work as much as the people executing the individual tasks.

Managing and leading a project is highly people-based. Falling victim to the idea that process is everything can have a significant negative impact on the success of the project.

Project Managers are the face and the voice of the project. Their relationship with every stakeholder and team member is important. Building these effective relationships means doing more than listening.

Successful Project Managers take their people leader role seriously and seek out input, ideas, and feedback. They are actively and physically present with the team. This can be especially challenging with the global nature of today’s projects. Teams could easily be located in a number of facilities, or offices across the country, or even the world making not only communication but relationship and team building more difficult.

It’s these challenging conditions that make soft leadership skills increasingly more important. As project work begins, some of those critical soft skills will be needed immediately, including:

Active ListeningConflict ResolutionDelegation
Meeting ManagementPolitically SavvyOrganization

For team members, the list of important soft skills is similar in nature, but also:

Change AgentExcitement & EnthusiasmOpen to Learning
OrganizationCollaborativeOpen Communicator

As part of your project plan, you must identify the person who owns the project. They are the go-to person when questions or problems arise.

They are also the person who will monitor and push the project to, successful completion.

Project LeadershipProject leaders must identify the right people for the project and steering teams as these individuals will help define the goal and scope of the project, and act as the gatekeepers.
Project TeamBroad participation on the project team is crucial for resource identification and predicting/preventing obstacles early, so the project scope can be clearly and accurately defined.
Steering ControlSenior leaders representing departments involved on the project team will be needed to help represent the project and support focus on the goal. You'll need these leaders to hold the line.
Standard Change ControlTypically contains 5 stages: Proposing, Summary, Decision, Implementation and Closing the Change. The Project Manager will have ultimate authority, but team support is critical.


As you create your S.M.A.R.T. plan you will uncover resources needed to achieve your project. The primary resource categories are:

  • People
  • Materials
  • Equipment

Understanding each resource category is important because all companies are constrained by resources. Early in the project, you’ll realize that everyone you involve has competing priorities and although this project is everything to you, it’s one of many priorities your stakeholders are balancing.

It’s for this reason that well-planned projects will typically leverage a Resource Plan for each Category. Resource Plan Now, with transparency around the resources needed and their associated costs, we’ll calculate projected savings based on our goal of reducing process-related scrap and rework by 40%, and generate an ROI from there.

Here’s a sample ROI Analysis for our Work Instruction Implementation project:

Sample ROI Analysis


Establishing Communication

Clearly identified task ownership

As defined in your project plan, each and every task has an owner. The owner is responsible for completing the task at the scheduled time. They are not necessarily the person who has to do the task, but they are responsible for it being done. Very often, departments or groups are assigned tasks, but invariably no individual picks it and runs with it.

To avoid any confusion, there MUST be one owner per task. Task ownership is one of the critical sub-processes occurring in any project. It’s at this level where the work is happening that when aggregated, achieves the project goals and objectives. To effectively manage the complex web of activities occurring simultaneously, a Project Manager may leverage a responsibility matrix like the example below.

Clearly identified escalation path with a dedicated decision maker

With every project, problems are bound to occur. Therefore, an escalation path is critical. The escalation path defines a route any project team member can take when a problem occurs. It must follow a logical path and include the project manager. The project manager has a pivotal role with the right to escalate the issue.

If and when this occurs, the next level above must rest on the shoulders of a decision-maker. The decision-maker has the company authority to make critical choices to ensure project progress is made. The decision-makers' final word is then accepted and carried out. Ideally, the decision-maker and project manager is one in the same person, therefore allowing an efficient resolution of problems. However, in most companies, this can not be achieved. But with a clear escalation path in hand, problems can still be resolved.

Status Updates

Within your project plan, regular reviews should be planned and carried out. The review should include all members of the team and be run as efficiently as possible. The reviews are critical to maintaining the direction of the project and to ensure all actions are being done on time.

A key goal of the review meetings is to maintain positive momentum. Issues are bound to arise and when these occur, off-line meetings need to be held with the involved members to overcome problems and get back on track. Having protracted discussions within a review meeting only wastes the time of all the other members of the team and takes away the positive results achieved so far.

To ensure a smooth-flowing meeting, it is advantageous to instill a philosophy of transparency, rather than dragging it out during the meetings. If a task is going to miss goals (for valid reasons or not), it is better to feed that information to the project manager before the meeting. Therefore, the issue that has occurred can be resolved proactively and possibly brought back on track before the next review. Equally, with everyone aware of the problem and the countermeasures required, you maintain a positive proactive review meeting.

The following is a suggested review meeting format

  1. Overall review of the Key performance indicators (see next section).
  2. Overall review of the project plan.
  3. Review of the gaps
  4. Review of the next actions.
  5. Mention the positives.
  6. Close.

A note about the fifth point, “Mention the positives”: As a general rule, when you go through a project review, you tend to discuss the problems and what’s not on track. Obviously this is a critical aspect and purpose of the review, but it shouldn’t be all that’s discussed.

Time should also be spent on the items you don’t talk about much. The objectives, goals, and tasks which are meeting or exceeding your targets, which are coming in on time and are not causing you any issues. It is equally important to mention these and to congratulate the team on the successes. Ending on a high note will drive a positive approach for the next steps.

Monitoring Performance

Regular reviews should revolve around the performance the project has achieved so far. The Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that you create must exactly tie into your objectives and goals from your project scope. If you can’t explain the relationship between your project scope and your KPI’s, don’t waste your time measuring it.

If your goal is to reduce stoppage time caused by waiting for a QA member to respond to the production line, then that is exactly the measurement you should take. It is also critical to take measurements before you implement any actions, therefore providing a baseline to prove out your results. It is also critical to highlight key items that had a clear impact on the results.

If you have a spike or trough, which you can’t explain, it means you are not fully in control of the results.

In addition to your KPIs for your objectives and goals, there should also be a measurement for the adherence to the project plan. One way of providing this is to measure task on-time-delivery. Depending on the time scale of your plan, you can provide daily, weekly or monthly results. But you need to be cautious, as this can be easily distorted.

As you create your project plan, you need to make sure your individual tasks are detailed enough and representative enough that they all make sense as individual tasks and when compared to each other.

Building a Shed Example

Using this method means you can correctly distribute assigned tasks to a measured time scale, providing a meaningful on-time delivery KPI.

Enjoy the Tasks and Enjoy the Results!

An element that invariably gets overlooked is to enjoy the project and enjoy the tasks. You can increase the likelihood of this enjoyment by assigning tasks to individuals in which there is an alignment with what they enjoy doing.

If you have a person who is very hands-on and enjoys getting into the nitty-gritty, you would not assign them to a clerical task, when they could pour themselves 100% into a building task. You should also distribute the ‘Difficult’ and the more ‘Mundane’ tasks throughout the group to make sure that not one person is left out of the interesting items.

As stated previously, enjoyment comes in projects when the successes are recognized and the issues are handled efficiently, without any blame game. Keeping a sustainable tempo and an upbeat attitude will always make a project end with results that exceed expectations.

Visual Projects

What is a Visual Project? When a person with no experience can glance upon a project board and is able to understand the purpose and status of a project, you have made a perfect ‘Visual Project’.

Here’s an example of a Visual Project board, following the PDCA cycle:

Visual Project Board

At a glance, you can see what everything is about, who is involved and how the project is progressing.

Plan: Contains all the information on what the project is trying to achieve, the resources required, who is involved and what should happen if there is an issue

Do: Contains the plan with all the tasks clearly identified. Who, what, why, when. It also contains a status line, anything behind the line is complete, everything in front is to do. Therefore if it is behind schedule, you will see it straight away.

Check: Contains the measurements for confirming the project is doing what it is supposed to be doing. The goals and objectives are improving as required. It also includes the KPI’s for the project's performance and resource actuals.

Act: Contains the actions which come from frequent reviews. These can be catch back items which are of number 1 priority. They should be resolved quickly and only be re-incorporated into the overall plan if they are missing. The Act section also contains the positive feedback from the reviews and possible suggestions from the team for further improvements.

Traffic Lights: Traffic lights are an easy-to-apply visual indicator to show the status of the project and the individual results within it.

Green - Meeting and exceeding.
Yellow - Close to targets, but not there yet.
Red - Off Targets, Live planning actions need to catch back!

Project Owner

The board should also indicate the following:

  • The name of the person responsible for the project (The Project Manager)
  • Last updated - The date the last meeting was held and the board was updated.
  • Next update - The date the next meeting will take place.

With all this information, anyone will be able to see the status of the project. This includes who to go and see, if it is not up-to-date!

We began this three-part series with the first article discussing how a lack of well-documented processes can impact an organization’s ability to function effectively for a number of different, but associated reasons. Knowledge loss, brain drain and tribal knowledge are real threats that can have quantifiable impacts on quality, productivity and profitability.

While effectively defining the problem is important in developing a sustainable solution, for many organizations, the difficulty is not in comprehending or recognizing the problem(s) but in quantifying the true cost and overcoming organizational barriers to solve the problem(s).

In part 2, we looked at how to identify these barriers and also, how best to approach breaking through them so that the real work of improvement can begin. Whether the barrier is the current capacity of the team, the sheer scope and complexity of this work or even the riskiest barrier, acceptance of the status quo, documenting processes is critical and leaders in every organization must be able to identify and tear down the barriers to progress here or risk falling behind the competition.

Once an organization is able to identify and overcome the barriers to improvement, part 3 acts as a resource for leaders in their efforts to organize a project including strategic planning, pulling in the right people, allocating resources and effectively communicating needs, updates and results.

With a well-planned and executed project, stakeholders will have clarity from beginning to end on the qualitative and quantitative desired outcomes, the scope of the project including all resources needed and the upfront cost associated with providing these resources.

Most importantly, the return on investment (ROI) will be clear. When viewed together, this 3-part series is designed to better prepare your organization for the increasingly complex and competitive nature of the industry.

If we can provide any final advice, it would be to refer back to the tale of the Tortoise and The Hare, one of Aesop's Fables, in which, against all odds, the slow-moving Tortoise beats the arrogant Hare at a race.

Documenting critical processes should never be viewed as a quick, open and shut project. The project is really just the beginning of a new mindset where process documentation takes place every day as part of the continuous improvement cycle.

With contributions from Shannon Bennett.

Previously in the series:

Part 1: How to Retain Employee Knowledge Before You Lose It

Part 2: Overcoming Your Resistance to Change with Work Instructions

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