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Old 11th June 2021, 21:06   #1
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Default Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

"Agile management is the application of the principles of Agile software development to various management processes, particularly project management."

A lot of you in the IT industry might be smiling wide or laughing out loud. Those in the business side of organizations might have definitely heard about this term. AGILE - a word that is horribly misused in management and sometimes in software development.

Originating as a methodology of software development to ensure that customer value is maximized, product or solution stays relevant to the business needs and thus minimizing waste by reducing unnecessary development hours on features that didn't meet client expectations or became obsolete as the development progressed, this project management methodology caught the fancy of the world and is now being applied in almost every imaginable function of the commercial world."We need to be agile" is a sentence that is spoken with a lot of pride and enthusiasm by management folks (with very few understanding what it means). Agile transformation coaches, Agile transformation programs and Agile what not.

Taking a break from my rant and coming to the point. T-BHP has been a wonderful source of information. Using the same source, I observed a pattern that I would like to discuss with the members here. No prizes for guessing the question:

Is the Indian automobile industry embracing Agile management?

We've seen it in a few threads: Features getting deleted, variants being shuffled, colours being introduced in the product life cycle, some logical and some illogical variant combination being introduced and taken out silently form in market (Related Thread (Why it's important to offer the right engines + AT gearboxes + variants at the time of launch)

If my understanding is correct, traditionally car makers would launch a car, follow it up with a face-lift in 2-3 years time (where there will be feature changes, which also will be widely advertised) followed by either another face lift or a whole new model. This was true for most car makers unless there were safety/reliability concerns that would necessitate a pre-facelift change to the features or engineering of the car.

However in these days, we see that manufacturers are constantly playing with features, engineering and price of the products. Don't take my word for it though, do refer those threads!

Yet another Polo variant
Tata deletes features!
Tata Discontinues Nexon variants (Scoop! Tata discontinues a few diesel variants of the Nexon)
Hyundai deletes features and adds variants to i10 lineup (Feature deletions & variant additions to the BS6 Hyundai Grand i10 Nios)
Ford Deletes features on EcoSport (Ford deletes features from the EcoSport Titanium+ variant)
Mahindra deletes features and raises prices of XUV 300
Volvo deletes safety features (Volvo India: Removing safety features from its cars!)

The interesting part is: in the software industry, the end consumer will benefit from the updates and its a win-win for the manufacturer and the customer. With cars that's not the case as the consumer is mostly on the losing side. Ask Volkswagen to swap out the MPI engine of your Polo for a TSI engine at your own expense? Good luck with that! However, a rare exception was Maruti that refunded money to early S-Cross buyers (Maruti's goodwill gesture! Early S-Cross buyer gets a Rs. 90,000 refund and 2 year extended warranty).

It's a different story with electric vehicles though- companies will definitely be agile there. Maybe that's why the likes of Tesla and VW are focusing on reducing the number of physical buttons in the cabin and moving controls to the central touchscreen. It's super easy to add/remove/modify features that are controlled via software! The battery and motor management software can also be updated and considering the fundamentals of supply chain, you could possibly make your long range Tesla into a performance edition if you know how to tinker with the car. It also allows companies to beat the competition, get the first mover advantage and then fix issues in the background. Nobody will then complain about missing ICE/Climate control buttons on the dashboard- There won't be any!

While frequent feature/engineering/price changes might benefit the automaker, for now (at least in India) it leaves the consumer with a bad taste. However, not being agile might just kill the business (Nokia/Kodak anyone?). Maybe that's why they test the waters these days before launching a specific engine + transmission combination or a higher variant? The Indian automobile market is an enigma , that many global auto majors are yet to crack, so testing the water becomes so much important.

Not everyone is agile though. I've not heard the likes of Maruti/Honda make frequent changes to their lineup, but I could be wrong.

These are my thoughts , but since I'm not an automobile industry expert, I'm very curious to know what fellow BHPians here think?

(Epilogue: This post is also a product of Agile, multiple edits were made after the post was created!)

Last edited by govindremesh : 11th June 2021 at 21:43.
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Old 12th June 2021, 07:02   #2
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Default re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12th June 2021, 13:08   #3
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

As you mentioned in the first para, agile is a much misused term and is now taken as a mantra to solve all of the problems a company faces. The idea seems to be, if something does not work, let's throw agile at it. Whole companies are attempting to do this without any consideration of the domain and requirements of the domain.

I had been in this bandwagon sometime back. I stepped away when the focus became only on 'doing agile' and not 'being agile'.

My current approach is simple. You need to 'be agile' and you cannot get there by 'doing agile'. You need to understand what blocks you from being agile and take those iterative and incremental steps to get there. If you peel away all the agile jargon, at the heart of it, it is pretty simple- how do you continuously improve.

In the context of the thread, I would again hate to use the agile word. Manufacturers have realized that they need a way to be responsive and some of them have established a way to do that. The reasons for doing it may be multi fold, some of it may disappoint existing owners, some maybe the new buyers, some maybe for profitability. So who benefits from a manufacturer being able to be agile is debatable, but in my view it is good that they are able to do it.

Edit: Having said all of that, one thing that I forgot to mention was the 'Lean Methodology' pioneered by Toyota starting in the mid 20th Century itself. If you read the definition it would be very familiar. I assume most manufacturers would still be doing some form of this.

Quote:
Lean is the concept of efficient manufacturing/operations that grew out of the Toyota Production System in the middle of the 20th century. It is based on the philosophy of defining value from the customer’s viewpoint, and continually improving the way in which value is delivered, by eliminating every use of resources that is wasteful, or that does not contribute to the value goal. Lean is centered on preserving value with less work; with the ultimate goal of providing perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste. This is done by empowering every individual worker to achieve his or her full potential, and so to make the greatest possible contribution.

Last edited by Rajeevraj : 12th June 2021 at 13:23.
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Old 13th June 2021, 12:59   #4
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

In the 150 years since the industrial revolution, in the 110 years since the invention of the conveyor belt, in the 80 years since the introduction of Work Study, in the 70 odd years since the introduction of PERT/CPM and work flows, in the 55 years since the introduction of Lean, in the 30 years since the introduction of six sigma.... do you want me to go on.....humankind has constantly made an endeavour to fine tuning working methods, to improve methods of organizing factors of production, to refine design methodologies, to manage projects better & sharper and so on.

Every now and then along comes a new term with old wine in a new bottle and gets positioned as the panacea for all ills. For the current era it is AGILE. Just before this it was Six Sigma amongst others.

Agile as a concept and as a method of working has been practiced by Armed Forces of the world for centuries. Every commander of a ship or a battalion knows its nuts and bolts except they don't call it Agile. It is nothing but being resourceful, being quick, not waiting for 100% perfection and attacking the enemy first. The concept of Agile has been used to build the de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber of World War 2 in 13 months from concept formulation to the prototype flying and it was the most versatile warplane of the War on all sides. {from the world of aviation ie my line I could rattle off two dozen examples from the 1930s to the 1990s.}

All these concepts and methodologies have been around for decades and used under different names. They were used and indeed some were developed from the Apollo moon landings, the US Navy nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, the D-Day landings in 1944, to our own Pokhran-I explosion, to the national elections conducted in India every 5 years, to so many other human achievements in engineering and organization. Why even the Finance bill of 1991-92 that master minded and ushered in the economic opening of India was put together in less than 60 days. If that isn't agile then what is?

Unfortunately second grade IT managers at the middle and senior levels are beating the Agile mantra as a cure for all ills. In the process the medicine becomes the root cause of more illness. Some very large IT companies in both India & USA have embraced this and are ramming it down the throats of their employees and vendors. I am glad I am not in the IT industry as I see it as a dance of donkeys and the juniors bear the burden. As someone very closely associated with three large technology companies I at least have made it very clear that we are not going to go down the AGILE rabbit hole and make a bureaucracy out of what was meant to be a simple age old method of being nimble and getting something 80% right out there on time.

In my almost 4 decades of work life I cannot even count the number of times a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary team had to be put together at short notice to address a problem or an opportunity with the key leaders empowered to take big decisions on the spot. And the job had to be done in 72 hours flat. To all lovers of AGILE, Roman legions were doing this 2000+ years ago for heavens sake.

Coming to the automobile industry - in any product engineering endeavour where deep compliance and human lives are at stake you do things with diligence, planning, and deep quality check at the design stage. Products such as medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, aircraft, cars, ships, electrical machinery etc fall in this bucket. You cannot take the risk here of gimmicky fads. My personal belief AGILE as it is understood today has limited application in the auto industry except in areas like external facia or some look & feel of the cabin or colour combinations. I wonder if Boeing was practising AGILE in the design of the 737MAX!!!

My deepest sympathies to all readers who in their jobs have borne the cross of AGILE.
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Old 13th June 2021, 15:12   #5
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

I think the concept of Agility as it is used in Software Development cannot be applied in the Auto industry very easily. One of the cardinal principles of Agile software is to deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as quickly as possible, and then keep improving it in subsequent speedy releases, until you have a fully functional product. Being a highly regulated industry where the safety of people inside and outside the car is paramount, and the possibility of getting sued, if the specs promised are not delivered exactly, the development of a car follows more of a "waterfall" process. The key outcomes are determined upfront, a lot of engineering is then done to design and develop a product that meets these outcomes. It is then tested extensively over lakhs of kilometers and defects fixed. Sounds like very traditional "waterfall" process to me!

However, there is possibility for something like a "Agile Dressing" in terms of visual, comfort and convenience features like the infotainment system, sunroof, charging points etc. that can be added or tweaked after launch. The best illustration of how this concept was applied (although perhaps not intentionally ) is the Tata Harrier. Initially it was delivered as an 80% finished product in early 2018, well before the competitors like MG Hector could arrive on the scene. There were ugly panel gaps, the charging ports were all but inaccessible, the steering was too light, the interior fit and finish was rough and uneven, the knee was fouling with the Dash etc. Tata then took all the customer feedback sincerely, and worked on these items one by one in a sincere way, improving the Harrier quite a bit every few months. The 2019 model year Harrier was better in many respects and it got even better in 2020. They even added mechanical changes like the engine state of tune, automatic etc. in 2020, which is like beginning a new Agile Cycle.

However, there is one big difference in this journey, as compared to Agile Software - in the case of software, the user gets to experience the new features as they are added, however a car buyer is stuck with what he/she buys. It is just poor luck if they got an early model Harrier, in this case. I am not speaking of next generation software-driven electric cars like Tesla etc. which may be able to offer many of the added content and features to existing customers, however even there, physical items like seating, paint quality, fit and finish etc. cannot be delivered as updates.

Last edited by 84.monsoon : 13th June 2021 at 15:17.
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Old 13th June 2021, 15:27   #6
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

What you are talking about is called as Value Addition Value Engineering (VAVE) . It's been practiced since very long time in manufacturing.
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Old 13th June 2021, 17:18   #7
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

After ~20 years in the IT industry I have come to shudder whenever I hear the cursed word Agile. This is one of my pet peeves and I can go on for hours, but I better curb my angst and keep the discussion short and civil, considering TBHP is a "family" forum.

Two jobs ago, we had worked very hard (translate to long hours and late night calls) for the product release. Main reason was, you guessed it, ever changing requirements. Usually I am calm. I either say yes to all nonsensical management demands, and go ahead with the way I want it (99% I am right), or I just ignore the buffoon of a manager and stick to whatever documentation they have provided.

This time the stress was too much and eventually I lost it.
Product team: Your team did not deliver xyz.
Me: You did not provide clear requirements on time.
PT: We did. Check the sprint notes.
Me: Which part of "on time" did you not hear or understand?
PT: This is not acceptable.
Me: Fluid requirements are not acceptable.
PT: The whole world has embraced Agile. You are talking nonsense.
Me: Oh yeah? Can you buy a car without telling them upfront what type do you want? Petrol/Diesel/Saloon/Convertible/4WD/Manual? No? Then please don't preach.

Eventually all of us agreed to release the product as is. Management in their infinite wisdom, added a note the missing / incomplete features as citing "known issues"
I always take pride in my work. But in this case I was beyond caring. Needless to say I moved on a few months down the line.

Quote:
Originally Posted by govindremesh View Post
(Epilogue: This post is also a product of Agile, multiple edits were made after the post was created!)
Thats not the correct way to do edits. The real agile way is to do them after people have commented
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Old 13th June 2021, 19:31   #8
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

Some very valid points made by you @govindremesh regarding many of our auto manufacturers managements "agility." You have queried about the agility in the Maruti and Honda managements. Two instances of the Maruti management showing its agility are cited here.

Maruti has taken some knee-jerk actions, based on some perhaps obscure reactions at their board room.

(1) Around the turn of the millenium, the Maruti 800 Deluxe (EX and DX) was launched with a five speed gear box, perhaps to beat its then sole competitor the Daewoo Matiz. This 796 cc engine (45 bhp , 34 kW/ 46 PS) had 12 valves (4 per cylinder) with MPFI, conforming to the BS II norms. The oval silver sticker with the blue letters on its tailgate to the left, depicted the new found agility of the M 800 in its new avatar. But this dream was shortlived. They soon found that this was a cannibal. It was cannibalising into the sales of their then new launch, the Alto. Hence, within a short time this 5 speed, 12 valve, DX was discontinued. The new Maruti 800 buyers had to then make do with their old four speed 1986 gearbox.

Agile management in the Indian auto industry?-maruti-800-5-speed-download.jpg

(2) And Maruti introduced the Alto around September 2000, with their age-old, trusted 796 cc engine. From records, I can find that Maruti launched a 1061 cc (their F 10 D engine) engined version for its VX and VXi variants, around April 2001. This was again very soon discontinued as the "agile" management could again sense some mysterious cannibalisation from some variant from somewhere of some mystery Maruti . The ageing Zen was getting victimised in all probability and it got a refreshed version soon. Perhaps they also comprehended that their future hatch launches with the 1000 cc plus engines would be cannibalised by this powerful Alto. Soon after the VX and VXi again came only with the age old 796 cc engine till they launched their 998 cc, K 10 variant of the Alto but much later in August 2010.

History repeats, and let us look out for more such "agile" acts from India's largest car maker.

Last edited by anjan_c2007 : 13th June 2021 at 19:57.
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Old 14th June 2021, 01:41   #9
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

You have rightly pointed out the intricacies and the overuse of the word "Agile", Govind. I'd like to summarize it. The actual agility is seen in the unorganized sector where they change product cycles and customer bases every few hours or days, whereas with the Corporate or Automobile sector it's otherwise i.e. takes months or years to bring in something new (actually they can implement faster given the resources they have access to).
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Old 14th June 2021, 10:08   #10
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

Quote:
Originally Posted by govindremesh View Post

Is the Indian automobile industry embracing Agile management?
Dang! Thats the first thing I asked myself when I recently saw the thread about TATA omitting features! Cause it does clearly feels that way, constantly making incremental changes to production!
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Old 14th June 2021, 10:10   #11
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

There are two broad kinds of work in the auto industry, each with its own imperatives and constraints.
1. Product development - NPI (new product development) or a an ECO (Engineering change order) type work. They develop and do design transfer to...
2. Manufacturing/production - The famed Toyota production system is the grand daddy of all modern agile evangelists. The dealer relays information on what model/variant/color is on demand to the shopfloor and production for the day/week is planned accordingly.

It is clear (as was done by Toyota) that agile can be applied to manufacturing. How does one bring agile into product development which is inherently a system design domain and better suited to a waterfall approach?

One approach has been to apply agile to different layers of the system-engineering-v while maintaining an overall waterfall method. Another is to follow waterfall for the NPI and agile for the ECO teams. Alternatively one can run NPI itself a series of ECOs, which would completely take away the shock and awe one experiences in seeing a brand new car.
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Old 14th June 2021, 12:41   #12
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

I am no expert but have spent 16 years in IT industry and been part of numerous six sigma, lean, Agile projects. According to me the 2 most important factors that contribute towards turning around companies is company culture and CEO.

A company with a laid back culture would hardly benefit from all these fancy concepts as lack of accountability would lead to eventual failure and these projects would get restricted to powerpoint presentations and excel trackers. Hence, the company culture goes a long way. Similarly a strong willed CEO with good intentions can do wonders and even change the culture for good.

So whenever I see any company blabbering these jargons I never get impressed. If any auto major is imbibing these concepts, good for them. In the end give us a reliable, smart looking and safe cars.
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Old 14th June 2021, 13:38   #13
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rajeevraj View Post
I had been in this bandwagon sometime back. I stepped away when the focus became only on 'doing agile' and not 'being agile'.
This is an unfortunate reality, the focus on "doing agile" than "being agile". Thanks for sharing!

Quote:
Originally Posted by V.Narayan View Post
....... I wonder if Boeing was practising AGILE in the design of the 737MAX!!!
Thanks for sharing your views! I had done some research on this for my supply chain term paper and the information I could find on the internet leads me to believe that while the MCAS system (which caused the problem) might be a product of Agile being applied in the wrong fasion, the circumstances that lead to the MCAS being invented itself might be because Boeing wasn't agile enough. The 737 MAX was a knee jerk reaction to the A320neo and Boeing executives were in slumber till American Airlines (An exclusive customer of Boeing) dropped the bomb that they might sign up with Airbus for the A320neo (which they eventually did).

But I'm curious to know if you have more to share since on this you're in the industry, since my source of information is Google.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RedTerrano View Post
After ~20 years in the IT industry I have come to shudder whenever I hear the cursed word Agile........

Thats not the correct way to do edits. The real agile way is to do them after people have commented
Thanks for sharing your views. Now you know how badly the term is thrown around

Quote:
Originally Posted by anjan_c2007 View Post
(2) And Maruti introduced the Alto around September 2000, with their age-old, trusted 796 cc engine. From records, I can find that Maruti launched a 1061 cc (their F 10 D engine) engined version for its VX and VXi variants, around April 2001. This was again very soon discontinued as the "agile" management could again sense some mysterious cannibalisation from some variant from somewhere of some mystery Maruti . The ageing Zen was getting victimised in all probability and it got a refreshed version soon. Perhaps they also comprehended that their future hatch launches with the 1000 cc plus engines would be cannibalised by this powerful Alto. Soon after the VX and VXi again came only with the age old 796 cc engine till they launched their 998 cc, K 10 variant of the Alto but much later in August 2010.

History repeats, and let us look out for more such "agile" acts from India's largest car maker.
Interesting case anjan_c2007, thanks for sharing! We owned the Alto VX 1.1. from 2001-2016. IIRC, The Alto VX was discontinued because it was cannibalizing the sales of Wagon R. Back then, the Wagon R was not a good looking car and the Alto VX was cheaper, with the same engine!
Further as you mentioned, the 5 speed 800 is another case of a popular model getting the axe. As you rightly pointed out, it was because the 800 was cannibalizing the sales of the Alto. My dad tried to get the 5 speed 800 before we brought the Alto, but it was very difficult to procure one since they were only available at "select dealerships". The 10 year old me back then remembers him even thinking of buying one in Delhi and driving it down to Vadodara, where we used to live back then!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Maverick Avi View Post
A company with a laid back culture would hardly benefit from all these fancy concepts as lack of accountability would lead to eventual failure and these projects would get restricted to powerpoint presentations and excel trackers. Hence, the company culture goes a long way. Similarly a strong willed CEO with good intentions can do wonders and even change the culture for good.
Very true!
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Old 14th June 2021, 13:39   #14
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

This writer of this Forbes article suggests that anyone not following Agile should be fired. What do members think of such level of Agile enforcement?

https://www.forbes.com/sites/duenabl...h=31feb8a81337

Quote:
As a matter of fact, if you're a company who is serious about progress, the most sensible thing to do, is only hire senior management that is demonstrably Agile, who live and breath it themselves in their work practice and their day-to-day life alike.

That and fire the ones that aren't Agile. Every last one of them.
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Old 14th June 2021, 13:42   #15
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Default Re: Agile management in the Indian auto industry?

As someone who tries to BE Agile rather than DO Agile in my work, I can only say there is no need to wrap old candy in shiny new wrappers.

The automobile industry in India is unique and mature. Those who have got it right have figured out how to stay on top of the curve, and those who are trying to be leaders are trying new things to improve and stay relevant. That's what all competent businesses do anyway.

I'm more worried about the half baked stuff we are getting in the market. Obvious cost cutting at the expense of UX & safety, decisions to penny pinch in the wrong places, and using significant market position to essentially be forcing customers to either take it or forget it - these are Fragile product development practices, certainly not Agile.
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