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Agile prototyping

how an entire industry still has a hard time dealing with flexibility and agility

Not only does the Internet of Things improve the networking of devices, people and things, it also makes for faster development and buying cycles. Smartphone users, for instance, always have their mobile Internet to hand, and can indulge in a spot of shopping whenever the mood takes them – just a few clicks and the new songs have been bought and downloaded, or a pair of custom-made sneakers ordered. It is not just consumers who expect suppliers to react faster and faster to their requirements; a rapid response to customer requirements is also essential in the B2B sector, if business activities are to be successful.

In order to guarantee a competitive reaction to customer requirements in the development of physical products, it is necessary for new product development concepts to be applied. For quite some time now, the software industry has been using "agile" development methods. Following these methods, software is not fully developed and then tested, but instead, separate sub-tasks are developed, tested, evaluated and returned to the engineers for updates or fine tuning. When it comes to hardware or components, however, traditional methods have so far prevailed – i.e. parts are developed, then prototypes produced, tests carried out, following which - in the worst case - we go back to square one again. The reason is that, with physical products, it is not possible to test just parts of a product. What is more, the interaction of the systems is so complex that they have to be seen as complete entities in order to be able to assess the effects of components on one another – and also to see whether the finished product will meet the customer's requirements.

It is all a question of the right attitude

Therefore, when it comes to hardware, agile product development processes tend to deal primarily with changing internal processes and making them leaner. Outwardly, i.e. for the customer or consumer, the tendency is to adhere to traditional methods. The great advantage of the agile concept is that it is based on a regulated method that is both easy to understand and easy to implement. Employees, teams and management alter their behaviour in line with the new processes. This is extremely important because agile processes can only really be implemented if cultural changes are made. In the past, many lean management concepts fell through due to the fact that, although the methods were duly applied, the attitudes of employees and management failed to change. Management, for example, continued to exercise hierarchical control over teams, instead of allowing them to act independently.

The mark of agile concepts is that development tasks are broken down into sub-tasks, and small teams then carry these out independently. The downside is that information is lost every time a task is broken down. The way in which each of the separately handled sub-systems influences the others' function must also be taken into account.  For this reason, and also to allow for possible product liability and certification-related matters, the traditional waterfall methods are often retained alongside the latest methods when hardware is being developed.

Agile development brings about changes in culture and working methods

Nevertheless, there will ultimately be no stopping agile product development – put to successful use, the advantages, especially when it comes to productivity and efficiency, are simply too great. Methods like these put managerial staff in a position where they can do what they should really be doing, that is supporting their teams and employees and providing them with the tools and training they need to be able to do an even better job. Ultimately, this enables the potential of employees to be put to better use – and, thanks to the agile method, teams can organise themselves without any need for intervention at management level.

However, it is not enough just to change employees' attitudes: the entire corporate culture must change, otherwise it is not possible to master the challenges posed by increasing digitalisation, or to make full use of the opportunities they offer. Industry 4.0 and disruptive technologies and business models (think in terms of Uber, Airbnb or autonomous driving) are not just catchwords or temporary trends - they will change the entire economy. An agile concept enables people to react more rapidly to these upheavals, and products to be developed and tested faster. This concept sets no rules as to how to bring back together the sub-tasks that have been dealt with separately, and  this is handled differently from company to company and product to product An appropriate form of data and knowledge management is essential as the basis for the smooth completion of the sub-tasks and subsequently fitting them back together again, as this is the only way of managing activities and teams.

Regular testing forms an integral part of agile processes - in contrast to the waterfall method, though, this can be carried out at the end of every scrum run, and not just when development has been completed or frozen. The advantage of this is that errors can be corrected and the entire product validated more quickly. The latter can also be virtual. Nor do specifications for the certification of products or the documentation of the individual development stages hold the process up, as these are dealt with as part of each sub-project.

Concept "Development 4.0" (Entwicklung 4.0®) for faster hardware development

It is by no means possible to tap the full potential for improvement by simply introducing agile processes into product development. Integration, knowledge management and validation can all be organised more efficiently. In an agile organisation, this is even more important than in a traditionally run company.

Feynsinn's new product development concept "Development 4.0" (Entwicklung 4.0®)  helps companies to put the potential of all employees to the best possible use, and to assign each to the right project or sub-section. Taking best practice methods as its basis, Development 4.0 (Entwicklung 4.0®) places the focus on functional and constructive correlations. These integrate an appropriate form of knowledge and data management, to give teams and corporate management a holistic overview of the entire project. This involves:

  • Comprehensive product information in a single database (model-based development)
  • Consistent use of data throughout the entire value adding process - right up to the end of the product life cycle.
  • Structuring of the early development phase, optimisation of pre-development through function orientation and module strategy
  • Visualisation, to improve the exchange of information within the teams and enable decisions to be made more quickly
  • Better use of the work environments and intuitively operated user interfaces

Development 4.0 (Entwicklung 4.0®) is therefore capable not only of preparing companies for challenges such as Industry 4.0, digital transformation and disruptive innovations, but also of helping them to gain a competitive edge.