For a car, agility means the ability to adjust to different road conditions, with responsive steering and suspension technology that allows the vehicle to remain stable while taking tight turns at speed.
For a business, agility also means nimble maneuvering and high-performance: solving real business problems focused on clearly defined outcomes.
Now more than ever, decision makers in the automotive space must take business agility into account to solve those problems and achieve those strategic outcomes. The current pace of change – due to factors ranging from disruptive new technologies to pandemic-influenced supply chain challenges – requires extraordinary flexibility.
In the notoriously volatile and highly competitive automotive market, organizations are under immense pressure and decisions need to be made quickly. Businesses that survive and thrive during these times share one common characteristic: the ability to be nimble. But in a manufacturing space that is historically slow to change, that flexibility and agility isn’t always easy to find.
What follows are the best practices and common characteristics that pave the way to implementing a business agility strategy that will allow automotive decision makers to not only adjust to the realities of today, but also recalibrate in ways that position them for sustained success going forward:
Being agile means getting out of the way of anything that impacts your ability to address challenges and get to market faster. In other words: avoiding impediments (anything that requires support, dollars or time). Agility begins with transparency. To move fast you need to be able to see what’s in front of you.
Building the right internal teams is a critical piece in the agility puzzle. Informed, empowered and decisive teams foster knowledge by sharing insights and information. Break down the siloed structure common to many large organizations. Avoid common hurdles like insufficient funding, capacity limitations, limited skill sets or lack of decision-making power. Make sure each team has the information, the capability and the authority to do what needs to be done. Trim bureaucracy by empowering teams to be autonomous and decisive, removing any fear of failure.
Use teams as incubators to experiment with process improvement methods. Break down work that needs to be done. Identify and prioritize goals, break it into digestible chunks, and set a timeline. Build stories – and learn from successes and failures. Practical examples of what works and what doesn’t are extremely powerful and effective, both as waypoints for progress and as motivators for buy-in.
Tools and Tech
Operational elements differ between teams and companies. The right tool for one could be a poor fit for another. But the three consistent elements that will help unlock a more agile future include leadership training, seamless technology implementation and establishing meaningful and measurable metrics.
Be patient. Agility doesn’t happen overnight, especially in an industry with as much ingrained tradition and institutional inertia as automotive manufacturing. Build in pieces methodically and across departments. Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast. Change also causes chaos, which is inherently messy. Progress is unlikely to come in a straight line. Expense and false starts should be expected. Remember: You don’t plant a whole forest all at once, you do it one tree at a time.
Don’t lose sight of why you are doing this. Becoming more agile isn’t an end unto itself; it’s a way to better produce and distribute products, a way to respond effectively to market conditions, to better satisfy the evolving priorities and preferences of consumers, and to better service clients and professional partners. Throughout this process, make sure you stay focused on core business values and key business outcomes.
Cheryl Strait (pictured above, left) is national practice lead for Enterprise Program Management at international consulting firm Centric Consulting.