Agile Project Teams in Engineering

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Engineering these days requires agility. We’re reconfiguring processes, and we need to be flexible with time zones, languages, accents, engineering cultures and operating philosophies. We cannot always select the people on our projects and must work with various teams to be successful.  How do we do this? McKinsey & Company insights into Agile Project Teams provides some interesting insights.

Let’s apply their practical observations from How to Select and Develop Individuals for Successful Agile Teams: A Practical Guide to process engineering.

First, when approaching a new process problem, it’s important for everyone to understand handling ambiguity with agreeableness leads to success. This includes the engineering and operating company teams and technology suppliers.

Processes are complex; there are many choices for the design. I have one project at the moment where the solvents/solids are toxic and hazardous, the solids polymerize immediately, and the operating conditions are severe.  There are over fifteen (15) different options for the solid-liquid separation technology design.  McKinsey’s research would suggest our project team needs to work through each option while keeping the focus on a safe and acceptable solution.

The guide suggests, Agreeableness means saying “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but.” It’s not about avoiding conflict or blindly agreeing without any thinking. It’s about testing ideas while being open to feedback.

Agility in Engineering Projects

Per McKinsey’s analysis, the agile project team’s focus must be on outcomes. “Agile teams take ownership of the product they deliver. For them, pride in the product (the outcome) sits higher than pride in the work (the process): they know that the process can and will change as they review the relationship between the process and value it achieves.”

Each step in the process moves the team closer to the desired outcome to achieve the overall objective: optimum technology selection to achieve quality while meeting environmental and safety requirements.

Finally, everyone must work as a team on successful agile projects. Sometimes different agendas must be reconciled.  Neuroticism can be an obstacle: “team members need to be able to stay calm when unexpected errors and issues arise.”

Find ways to foster a cooperative spirit. Years ago, I worked on a project where the operating company implemented a program rewarding team members that came up with ideas or creative solutions and showed cost savings. In fact, our vendor team was rewarded for including a special type of dust filter to capture solids from the vacuum dryer. As you can imagine, it’s not often the operating company provides additional compensation to the vendor!

The McKinsey study concludes, “great teams do not mean technically the best people or the most experienced.” Agility serving a shared focus on the goal can make the team even better. Next time, you’re on a project, keep these points in mind. Let me know if you are successful!

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