When IHG began developing the H4 prototype for Holiday Inn hotels in 2015, the project became bogged down in details, and the design team seemed unlikely to deliver on time. But using a production process created for computer software, the team was able to handle each small step of the process, adapt as needed into each larger step and finally roll out what Eric Lent, IHG’s VP of full-service hotels, called a “fully procured negotiated solution” to its Owners Association on schedule.
The Agile system was then applied to the Accelerate plan for Crowne Plaza hotels and the new midscale Avid brand. And while software development and hospitality design may not seem to have much in common, when broken down into elements, the process of bringing a computer program to life can be surprisingly similar to the process of creating a hotel space.
Agile evolved from the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, who advocated “continuous improvement” as he worked with global businesses in the late 1950s. “It's taught in business school as the plan-do-check-act cycle,” Lent said. As the computer industry boomed in the late 1990s, Deming’s lessons were codified into the Agile Manifesto, officially published in 2001.
The manifesto, Lent said, is about “continuous improvement by reacting to new conditions, new variables, new information in a real-time format, so the team can share where they are, have clear accountabilities and hold each other mutually accountable for action.”
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Lent joined IHG a little more than two years ago from a technology background that included training in the Agile process. At the time, he said, the company’s design team was struggling with “disarray in terms of ability to meet timelines, budgets and having strong clear accountabilities across the team.” Using the traditional Waterfall model for design, teams and their members often faced delays that held up development. “Waterfall project management, by the nature of how it's created, assumes work is done in a static environment,” Lent said. “We know that as you go about business you get new input, new data. People make different decisions, they have biases that often change the trajectory of the teams. Waterfall management doesn't allow for agility.”
Working with Russ Peña, director of design execution and methodologist for the Americas region, Lent saw an opportunity to implement the process used for creating software in creating hotels. “It couldn't be applied verbatim,” he acknowledged. “We had to really adapt it to our environment. And as we did so, what we resulted in was a methodology that today is now the standard for how we are driving design across all of our brands.”
Since implementing the Agile process, Lent says that the design team has gone from “disarray to hyper-productivity, delivering products on time and on budget. “One of the principles of Agile is self-governing teams,” he said. Teams within the company develop their own charters and commit to their own timelines. “Once a month, I sit down with them and some other individuals and we walk through where the project is—and it's not a big presentation with slides and decks. And my job as a leader is to eliminate impediments, reduce barriers and do what I can to help them continue to progress against the plan.”
Going forward, Lent said, everything IHG does from a design standpoint that is reflected in its hotels will come out of the Agile process. Owners, he explained, will get a product delivery delivered by IHG on time, on budget and at a cost per key that was committed to at the beginning. “It's transparent to them, but our level of delivery and the credibility that we have in delivering that is at an all-time high now because we're able to hold our vendors accountable, we're able to have a very clear accountabilities so that everybody is marching in the same direction—which, again, just improves productivity.”