VIE WPOIN TS
VOICES ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT
WHAT GM AND TOY
The age of heroes is over. Here’s how to get your organization up to speed on
agile and lean processes.
BY NATE McKIE
Organizations aren’t always the most flexible ntities. Over the last five years, our software develop- ment consulting firm has been using agile and lean
methodologies for internal work and client projects. While the
processes themselves are fairly straightforward, we found that
there are significant cultural and organizational challenges that
must be addressed when transitioning large corporations and
government agencies from waterfall or spiral methodologies
to agile and lean processes. The reason is not hard to see: A
move to an agile culture, where trust, empowerment and team
accountability are paramount, requires a major shift.
The issue is best illustrated through the creation of New
United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture
in the mid-1980s between two auto industry giants: General
Motors (GM) and Toyota.
Toyota agreed to show GM the way it was manufacturing
quality cars that were popular with buyers. In return, GM
would teach Toyota how to collaborate with U.S. workers, and
It actually worked: The plant began creating cars that were
significantly higher in quality than what was coming out of
other GM facilities, and doing so with unionized workers.
However, even though GM had learned these lessons from
Toyota (and in fact witnessed results firsthand in their plants),
it still took almost 30 years to implement these ideas across
Our Own Struggle
The difficulties GM faced and the mistakes made are a cautionary tale for large organizations that want to see real change.
At my company, before we learned about agile, we were
guilty of “hero-based” project success. Having a software
development background, I was put in the position—even as
the project manager—of making those last few late-night fixes
or implementing that final screen so the software could get out
the door on time.
The impetus for making the switch to agile was an
integration nightmare that took a client’s project four
weeks past deadline. This occurred despite the team hav-
ing great technical specs that told them exactly what to
do. We needed more discipline and a better process to
keep the last-minute surprises from hitting us so hard.
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