Using Agile Development Methods to Improve Safety Management

Many safety managers know the challenges of implementing a safety management system, such as:

Lack of alignment

Some companies don’t make money from safety. And team members are always encouraged to focus on activities that make the company money--sometimes even if that means safety falls by the wayside.

Difficulties building a safety culture

Because of this lack of alignment, it can be hard to build a true safety culture. Warehouse employee performance metrics and indicators often focus on efficiency, throughput, and very little else. Safety can seem like a "nice to have" instead of a "must have" to team members when they know their performance isn’t measured on it.

Little-to-no face time with employees

Do you know all of your team members names? Do they know yours? Often, it is tough to get out and talk to team members. But if they don’t see the safety manager out on the floor, how important can safety really be?

Difficulty measuring behavior change and results

Safety is often measured in injuries and dollars paid in workers’ comp. When measuring this way, it can be tough to tell if your efforts are truly working. You may not know if the team has truly bought in or whether changes have really made them safer until it’s too late. The original concept for VIT Initiative's Arc wearable platform came from this lack of quantitative data and transparency of leading indicators.

Low budget for safety

A company's culture and upper management buy-in are critical for setting and upholding safety standards. Otherwise a poor culture and buy-in can result in low budgets to spend on safety equipment and technology, especially when you're fighting with other silos of the company for budget allocation. 

So safety managers are faced with the question: how can I manage the safety of my team members and facilities given these constraints?  Here at VIT, we believe we have come up with a novel health and safety software solution to help with safety management borrowed from the battle-tested methodology of agile development. 

Change the safety management system

Agile is a development methodology that is most famous for its use in developing software products. Software companies use agile methods to finish projects quickly, improve transparency, and improve focus on a single goal. Agile methods are also valuable because they allow companies to quickly test and evaluate ideas to determine if they are worth continuing.

Agile has a few benefits as a management system by virtue of the things it values:

Transparency

By being clear about the goals of safety management and pushing towards them every day, you can improve the safety culture of your organization. Team members will know that the company truly cares about safety and that their voice matters.

Inspection

Scrum encourages users to regularly evaluate their progress and contribution. This keeps the goal of safety top of mind.

Adaptation

The short sprint intervals offer frequent chances to evaluate how well certain initiatives and activities are working. If you’re not seeing results, you can decide to tweaking things or decide to drop it and move onto another objective.

In particular we like Scrum, which is a system of agile development that is set apart by its tried-and-true set of roles and meetings it uses to achieve goals. Some important ideas in scrum include the following.

Team

Scrum teams are typically 5-7 employees. The small size allows each team to accomplish a significant amount while minimizing the distractions of large groups. 

Product Owner

Responsible for the success of the product. Knows what items need to be accomplished and how problems should be prioritized.

Scrum Master

Responsible for managing the scrum process and removing obstacles that keep the team from meeting its goals.

Team Members

The team members are responsible for completing the items set for by the product owner. Teams are typically no more than 9 people, but organizations can have multiple scrum teams operating at the same time.

Meetings

The process is broken up into “Sprints”, usually 1-4 week intervals that have a specific focus. Each sprint is comprised of 3 types of meetings.

Daily Stand-up

Every day, the scrum team has a quick meeting to discuss the previous day’s work and answers three questions: What did I do yesterday What will I do today? What obstacles are keeping me from completing tasks?

scrum stand up

Do you have safety-related questions you believe your team should be asking every day? Comment below!

Sprint Review

At the end of the sprint, a review meeting takes place to evaluate what has been accomplished during the sprint. It is typically a celebration where team members can show off their contributions. Usually, everyone in the company is encouraged to attend.

Sprint Retrospective

At the conclusion of each sprint, the team meets to discuss how well the sprint went. Are there things that helped the teams move towards its goals? Are there things that hurt the team in its work? This is the time and place to discuss and make suggestions for next time.

Scrum was designed with software development in mind, but we believe that its basic tenets can be adapted for safety management. Some initial changes that we would recommend include:

  • The safety manager should probably occupy the role of product owner and scrum master. This person should be setting the safety priorities and helping to resolve issues and obstacles.
  • Try to keep daily stand-ups to ~5 minutes. We know that warehouse productivity is often the name of the game, so keeping meetings short and sweet is key. Over the span of a 7 day week workday you'll end up spending 35 minutes of stand-ups which is almost half the time for a 60 minute update.
  • We’ll have more specific changes as we delve deeper into the roles, meetings, and measuring results.
  • Use your sprints as a way to encourage deep focus on particular topics. You could spend one encouraging team members to look out for warehouse ergonomics issues, lock out/tag out problems, followed by spill and trip hazard, and more.

In the coming weeks, we will be detailing other changes in our series on Scrum for Safety Management. Stay tuned for deep dives blog posts on using the scrum tenets for safety management. The series will include: