Production is “the process of the targeted combination of production factors (input) and their transformation into products (products, output)” (Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon). So far, so good – but how does standardized production become an agile production? Finally, rising market volatility and growing uncertainty are forcing manufacturing companies to constantly assimilate their own production concepts to changing conditions. Industry 4.0 is supposed to be the fourth Industrial Revolution: smart, digitally networked systems ensure automated production. But it’s not just cyber-physical systemsthat “upgrade” the still-largely existing Industry 3.0.

AGILE production and new business models

Kaufmann (2015, p. 12) shows a first trend with regard to agile models: The focus of this approach is not only on intelligently communicating machines, but on a fundamental adaptation or even reorientation of the (existing) business models. In particular, adapted products and shortened delivery times take a step towards agility. The main focus is on improving quality and shortening delivery times.

Agility in Industry 4.0

The road to agile Industry 4.0 is still a long way off. Kaufmann (2015, p. 15) clearly shows that this new, agile industry is still in its infancy. In order to advance a further development into fully agile production, a constant cyclical reflection must be made: Machine, operating, product and business data must be used to predict optimized processes for piece-precise or consumption-based billing as well as for product value-enhancing services or additional products (value-added services). In this way, we must constantly learn which practices work and which do not.

agile production 40
Idea of agile production (own presentation)

To stay adaptable at this point, the following procedures are recommended:

    • Iterative and incremental development in defined cycles (e.g. 4 weeks)
    • Delivery of a sub-product or product increment after each cycle
    • Feedback and correction after each cycle
    • Iterative change and detailing of product requirements after each cycle
    • Fixed budget and resources with variable functionality
  • Daily coordination of the development team, including with stakeholders

Lean ISt not equally agile

Even if a lean production is characterized by very flat hierarchies and many principles seem agile, lean production is not completely agile in itself.

In order to be able to better serve customer requests, the production philosophy of “Agile Manufactoring” was born. In response to lean production, the focus here is primarily on fulfilling flexible customer requirements without incurning new costs or saving on quality. The idea of the virtual company is the father of the idea: relationships with suppliers should be flexibly and at short notice aligned to respective market opportunities.

The bearing control is considered to be rather unrelevant in agile manufactoring. The fulfillment of customer requirements and thus customer satisfaction is given more importance than the pure production quantity. In order to meet these requirements, Agile Manufactoring needs a self-sufficient and intelligently working workforce. The structure can then also be described as an “agile company”.

agile lean
The figure (own figure by source: Christopher & Towill 2015) shows that lean production is scheduled to produce a certain amount of production for a certain demand. Agile Production does not want to plan in order to be able to serve customer requests more flexibly.

Agile Manufactoring

Here the Gabler Economic Dictionary says the following: Agile manufactoring is a production philosophy that focuses on satisfying customer demand through flexible production practices. Agile Manufacturing was created in response to lean production. It differs in its focus on meeting customer requirements without compromising quality or additional costs. The idea is based on the concept of a virtual company and aims to establish flexible, often short-term relationships with suppliers when market opportunities arise.

To make it clear where this trend comes from, I have recreated a graphic from Slideshare. It shows how agile manufacturing and agile logistics work together effectively. It turns out that a lot of trends influence and the production has a long history with many influences around lean, agile and other frameworks.

agile manufactoring
Own presentation based on a presentation on Slideshare by Murugan

Scrum and holacracy in production

On the portal I found the following: Scrum is the implementation of lean development for project management. The procedure has so far been established primarily in the software industry. A team is gradually working on the development of a new product across all divisions. Due to the complexity of the project, the result cannot be precisely planned in advance. So does Scrum make an agile production?

Scrum in production? Is that possible? Here’s what the article says: Scrum is now widely used in all production applications across all teams. Small subteams meet daily for meetings on a visualization board, discussing the work packages and the achievement of goals. In doing so, they exchange views on what can help them achieve the goal. The team responsible for transferring products from development to production, the Production Engineering team, is now also working with Scrum.

Furthermore, even holacracy is used in production. So Holacray as an example of agile production? The most recent example is from the company Cinteo. On its website, the company says: The automotive industry is currently undergoing the most drastic changes to date and is facing unprecedented challenges: New mobility requirements, new business models and revenue sources, new competitors, new regulatory and sustainability requirements, shorter technology cycles and the additional pressure to continue to innovate more quickly fundamentally change the previously successful value creation and its management. Skills in the areas of digital customer engagement, e-commerce and business model development are critical success factors.

So Holacracy was a way for the company to do so. This is what is stated on the website: “Holacracy is a third way: it brings structure and discipline to a peer-to-peer workplace. For us, this means: effective meeting formats, more autonomy for our employees and a unique decision-making process with constant change and improvement!

But how does the company implement this? I have looked around the website and collected the following insights: Holacracy is implemented through vision and ideas as well as the inclusion of customer feedback in the production. It also uses the idea of functional teams that apparently produce a product end-to-end rather than just a single interface. Furthermore, many cross-sectional functions were created and KPIs were introduced. So much for the information on the website.

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Verwendete Quellen anzeigen

Timothy Kaufmann. (2015). Business models in Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things: The way from claim to reality. Berlin: Springer Vieweg.

Martin, Christopher and Denis Towill (2015) An integrated model for the design of agile supply chains


I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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