When it Comes to Enterprise Implementations, Agile is Not the Latest Business Fad

15 years ago, kicking off continuous improvement programs was all the rage. Now, a new project methodology – known as Agile – is being embraced to improve business processes. The consulting firm McKinsey did a recent survey across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. McKinsey says that 70% of companies, in some shape or form, are piloting Agile now.

Agile is characterized by rapid learning and decision-making cycles. Agile’s genesis was in software product development where code was developed in quicker cycles and shared more frequently with users to make sure development was proceeding on the right track, in a way that would drive value for the users. Today, all the major supply chain software suppliers attest to practicing Agile in their product development.

But I discovered when researching the market for system integration services associated with warehouse management systems (WMS), that Agile is not some new fad in this market. It is a well-established methodology.

But many system integrators have embraced Agile as a project methodology useful in implementing enterprise software. Ram Gopalakrishnan, the CEO at Bricz, mentioned that when helping clients through a warehouse management system selection and implementation, Bricz has moved away from a “long, drawn-out requirements mapping and solution design process” in favor of more frequent agile iterations to capture “the right priorities and the changing requirements in real-time.”

Chris Riemann, a Managing Director in the Supply Chain Practice at Deloitte Consulting LLP, echoes this. Deloitte uses a “Hybrid Agile” approach for WMS implementations, with the functional design, configuration, and application testing following an Agile methodology, and integration testing and user acceptance testing conducted utilizing a waterfall approach. Future enhancements to the systems would then follow the Agile methodology of incremental change.

In ARC’s new study of WMS system integrators, Open Sky Group is listed as being one of the largest implementers of Blue Yonder’s WMS solutions. Chad Kramlich, Chief Revenue Officer at Open Sky Group, explains how Agile works in more detail. “Within our Agile design methodology, we have sessions with customers. We might say to the group, ‘these are the 3 best practices for receiving based on the software capabilities. What’s most feasible for your operations?’” Customers pick an approach and then Open Sky Group talks about how the process the company currently follows to receive may or may not fit within the chosen approach. That’s where the really tough conversations can happen as that means process changes. Once the trouble spots are smoothed out in discussion, Open Sky Group then demonstrates the feature and rapidly adjusts the approach in real time to fit the customers needs. This can eliminate a lot of re-work, the client can then play around with that functionality and the group moves on to the next area.

Several years ago when Open Sky Group saw that traditional waterfall project management wasn’t working any more, they began adopting Agile principles and wrapping it into their methodology, refining and honing their approach over time. It has not only greatly streamlined the workload of an implementation, it gets early and consistent involvement from critical members of the team. Mr. Kramlich claims that using this approach, Open Sky Group can do a WMS implementation in as little as four months. That would be significantly quicker than the norm, which for complex warehouse environments would usually be 9 months or more.

Some of Blue Yonder’s Leading System Integrators Have Embraced Agile

In short, Agile supports moving from a “design the solution to fit the requirements” model to a model that more closely resembles “design the process to fit the solution.” A design to fit requirements process is commonly a mistake because it often leads to the customization of software. Customization increases the cost of the implementation, can make upgrades more difficult, prolongs the time it takes to do a project, and ultimately reduces the return on investment of a project.

Accelalpha, an Oracle consulting shop, fully supports “design the process to fit the solution” model and believes it is particularly appropriate for SaaS-based multitenant cloud solutions. Using this model, accelalpha has implemented Oracle’s Cloud WMS in as little as ten to twelve weeks in less complex warehouse environments. Harrison Hudgins, a partner at Accelalpha, adds that you are not sacrificing anything by designing the process to fit the solution. Speaking on behalf of Oracle, but which he acknowledges “applies broadly to SaaS solutions, … the solutions are built with leading practices in mind, a necessary level of configurability to accommodate different business processes, and a continuous flow of updates and product improvements that matures with market practices and your business.”

Marc Roelofs, cofounder of Starware says they approach “a WMS implementation project as a true Agile project.” Starware specializes in implementing Blue Yonder’s WMS. “During the discovery phase we determine a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) together with our customers. This means that we determine a complete end-to-end process which we will implement first. This can be a specific customer, a commercial flow, a product group or part of a process (e.g. inbound). This is a much smaller scope than the complete project.” The advantage of working this way is that customers can see results quickly. They can also continue to work with the existing legacy solution until the next MVP is identified and implemented in the new WMS. “Users can quickly start working with the new system. This creates user support for working with the new WMS.”

COVID has kicked off an interest in using Agile to quickly change operational processes. In the supply chain realm, Agile allows companies to be more responsive to dramatic swings in demand. But in the consulting arena, it is already a well-established methodology.