Five Ways Agile In Automotive Will Pivot In 2021

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

#Team Integration    #Automotive Agile

Agile Development, a way to incrementally approach complex projects by decomposing it into smaller chunks and measuring the ability of the team to accomplish these bite-sized pieces, has absolutely taken ahold recently in the automotive sector. Companies attempting to forge into the brave, innovative world have realized the only way to measure completion towards commitments are ways of working akin to Agile. But after a very turbulent 2020, new Agile trends appear on the automotive horizon. Some of the 2020 Agile predictions came true —  like those of WardsAuto’s Sergej Weber including an increasing demand for measurables (a.k.a. “Agile KPI’s”) — but now other Agile topics are seeking the spotlight. Below are five emerging Agile trends in automotive this year.

Distributed Teams Find A Way

While it looked strongly like Business Agility would outshine every other Agile trend in 2020, Covid-19 proved us wrong. Instead, the pandemic has pushed a much more fundamental issue to the forefront: distributed development. “Teams are spread across different countries and time zones, as well as working from home, says Weber. “However, Agile development was originally designed for collocated teams that communicate closely and respond quickly to changing conditions. With this lack of proximity, Agile teams will have to find ways in 2021 to replicate the same frequent, communicative dynamic as a collocated team, which is a major challenge.” Even as vaccines are widely distributed, hybrid office-home arrangements will persist, so the ways of working will need to morph with it.

Let’s Call It Agile Populism

More and more automotive industry beneficiaries are discovering Agility-as-a-Service for themselves. There are countless conferences, trainings, podcasts, books and even Agile influencers. The growing demand means snake oil salesmen are pedaling Out-of-the-Box Agile or Silicon Valley Agile without truly understanding the unique needs of automotive. Therein, Agile tailored appropriately to automotive is becoming more of a consultant-only or specialist topic. The hype is clearly overheating and will ultimately lead to Agile Fatigue and “fake news”, assuming it hasn’t already. The parallels to Six Sigma are becoming increasingly clear.

Agile Collaboration Across Company Borders

Automotive companies have been trying to implement new Agile scaling strategies for years. First, large-scale implementations of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), e.g. by General Motors GM +0.2%, Volvo, etc. seem ambitious but promising. Now, there is a new trend that needs to be addressed: Agile collaboration across company borders. Customer-to-supplier. Partner-to-partner. Technically, this isn’t scaling, but rather Agile Collaboration, which means that teams on the contractor and client-side work together in an Agile manner across organizational boundaries. As Weber predicts, “The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) is about to publish a guideline that makes suggestions on how different aspects of Agile Collaboration. e.g., roles, meetings, and artifacts, which is expected to be released in March. Thereafter, expect to see more of this rolled-out between companies in 2021.”

The Flow Must Go On

There is much to suggest that Velocity (the measurement of how quickly a team can get through an amount of work) will soon be replaced by another Agile concept: Flow. As chronicled by the research of Katumba and Knauss while examining Volvo Cars, one of the key challenges of historical Agile is “… multitasking and frequent task switching ….” And as James Slavet wrote in his seminal 2011 Forbes article: “One of the most important management metrics of the 21st century is the percentage of time a team spends in flow state. Ideally, knowledge workers can spend 30-50% of their day in uninterrupted concentration.” Velocity incentivizes large work packages and heroism, e.g., a 13-story-point user story sounds grander than a lowly 3-point story. This misguided incentivization often leads to teams over-committing and under-delivering. In their book “PeopleWare” (1987), DeMarco and Lister define Flow as “… a condition of deep, nearly meditative involvement. In this state there is a gentle sense of euphoria, and one is largely unaware of the passage of time. There is no consciousness of effort; the work seems to well, flow.” In 2021 automotive companies will enable Flow via two important commitments: reducing batch size and preventing multitasking.

OKRs Make Their Way Into The Automotive Industry

Formulating goals is one of the core tasks of modern management and there is a whole range of methods in this respect. In the 70s we had MBOs (Management by Objectives), since the 80s S.M.A.R.T goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) and since the end of the 90s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), a technique for goal-oriented and modern employee management that has been in use first at Google. Now, this trend has finally arrived in both the Agile and automotive communities. “We are hearing at Kugler Maag Cie that in our customer’s boardrooms, the introduction of OKRs is being lively discussed, especially for use at the portfolio level,” says Weber. “A big enabler of this trend is the Scaled Agile Framework since version 5.0 introduced OKRs as a technique for describing strategic themes, and to make the link between enterprise strategy and portfolio vision a bit more concrete.” 2021 will see significant growth of OKRs intermingled with management decisions.

No surprise, but 2021 will see significant change from 2020. Thankfully.


Do you need to improve your automotive product development, to increase efficiency, or to comply with ASPICE and Functional Safety? You are at the right place.