Agile product development— already proven for software products— promises significant advantages for fast delivery of innovative products, but hardware developers have been slow to adopt agile principles. In a recent article in PDMA’s Visions magazine, I explain that managers and developers may be clinging to outdated beliefs about project planning and development waste.
Agile software practices can’t be translated verbatim into hardware product development, but two schools of thought—Flexible Product Development and Lean Product Development—offer ways to adapt agile principles to hardware development.
Agile hardware development calls for a new planning approach, one that conflicts with traditional beliefs about “best practices,” frozen plans and the cost of change. These beliefs can be so deeply ingrained that companies are reluctant to adopt more agile practices.
Back in the day, markets were stable and incremental innovation was enough to get by, so freezing plans before starting development seemed like a good way to eliminate product development waste. But for rapid innovation in emerging markets, rigid, frozen plans can create waste, rather than eliminating it.
For example, a team developing a product for a new application environment may freeze the plan around a certain type of enclosure, only to discover late in the project that the enclosure they chose is not acceptable in the new environment. At that point, the team must delay the schedule to design a new enclosure and rework other parts of the design to fit.
Freezing the enclosure decision too soon actually created waste in this situation, because not enough was known about the new application. A more agile approach would have been to postpone the enclosure decision until better information was available, keeping design options open to prevent rework when the enclosure decision was finalized.
Both Flexible and Lean product development practices are based on keeping some decisions open until better or more current information is available. The idea that making decisions too soon creates waste is such a departure from traditional planning practices that organizations must learn to question “best practices” before they can adopt more agile development methods.
For more details and some references about agile hardware development, take a look at the full article.