Why bring Agile ideas to Hardware?

The advantages of working Agile have been a revolution for software development – and then for services-oriented businesses too. Why is the world of hardware development now suddenly becoming so eager to follow suit? Because, finally, it can.

 

The promise of Agile is well-known and widely acknowledged.  The ability to ‘turn on a dime, for a dime’.  The ability to drastically reduce time-to-market.

 

The increased sense of empowerment that pervades all layers of the organization, so even the humblest coder feels like they might improve the entire company – given a valuable enough insight.  The ability to improve client collaboration during development, by effectively responding to new insights and changing requirements. The earnest commitment to customer value, rather than to internal goals, politics and priorities. The substantial elimination of waste from the equation.

 

Hardware-oriented businesses have for a long time stayed clear of the Agile principles and methods, though, for a combination of reasons: ‘ not invented here’ and ‘won’t work here’ heard most often. Why are so many hardware-oriented players now suddenly moving to pioneer and adopt these exotic and powerful approaches? Scrum, SAFe, MBSE, Modular Architecture, Xtreme Manufacturing… they’re seeing a wave of interest such as never before. Why?

 

The difference disappears

One major trend to recognize is that the proliferation of Agile ways of working beyond software developers goes hand in hand with the increased popularity of software development itself, though. More and more organizations are building in-house software development departments to support the increased digitalization of their services. It’s online banking portals developed by in-house developers at banks, or civil services databases engineered at municipal governments. It’s still software, in other words.

 

This also holds true for many hardware developers: firms that never included software in their products, are finding themselves in need of a programmer or two (or thirty). Think of cars running millions of lines of code just to start the engine, teddy bears with Bluetooth, smart lighting solutions, medical devices with AI, et cetera. The lines between software and hardware are blurring. Software are eating that world as well.


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Huge potential gains

The potential for hardware manufacturers to benefit from Agile principles and methods can be called enormous. Inestimable, even. Likely to change the course of industrial history. These years, so many new technologies are emerging: uprooting existing industries, creating new ones. Hydrogen and photovoltaic energy, nanotechnologies, biological and genetic engineering, graphene-based applications, advances in semiconductors, robotics and artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented realities. The list of innovations and potential applications goes on and on.

 

In markets buffeted by these disruptive new technologies, time-to-market is key. To the victor go the spoils, and in mass-manufacturing, the spoils are enormous. Since a reduced time-to-market and increased innovative power are the prime benefits that Agile ways of working have to offer, there is quite literally a world to be won.


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About the author

Ali Hajou is Trainer at Gladwell Academy and SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) candidate.

He has experienced the advantages of iterative product development that include the development of hardware and software components in the pharmaceutical industry, the semiconductor industry, and more.  Ali helped them find their own Agile Way of Working, as ‘the standard practices’ do not always apply ‘right out-the-box’.

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