Agile approaches in Engineering – challenges and prerequisites for a successful execution

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What special challenges do development organizations face when introducing agile process models? What measures can they take to meet these challenges?

In our first blog article, we explained why agile approaches make sense in the development of physical products. We also discussed how they can increase efficiency in product development, raise customer and employee satisfaction, and minimize risks.

ln this article, we present some of the challenges organizations face when switching from waterfall to agile. Agility is a foundation for innovation. But why are manufacturing organizations still struggling to implement agile procedure models?

Agile transformation in the field of physical products causes further challenges

The decision to implement agile approaches leaves organizations with various tasks. Changing processes that have been established for years presents challenges for employees and managers.

Roles and accountability must be redefined and lived out while coordination points, communication patterns, and attitudes also need to change.

Moreover, the classic development process based on quality gateways is not compatible with the agile idea of incremental development of the product by interdisciplinary teams in sprints. That’s why the controlling and the incentives for executives have to be redefined and solved by reaching project milestones.

Furthermore, there are challenges based on physical features. While the costs and time invested in production and distribution of software are often low, the costs for physical products are much higher. This is based on the fact that software is inherently modular, while the adaptability in physical products is much more complex. This means that changes have far-reaching consequences which result in long feedback queues and high costs. The use of new technologies and a modularization strategy geared towards customer perception help generate rapid feedback at manageable cost.

The need to create a product also determines the degree of complexity in product development. Beyond the need for detailing a product, the production infrastructure and supply chain must also be set up. This is true because in product development the inter-disciplinarity within agile teams pays off, and special attention must be paid to clean communication at the interfaces between teams in order to make uncertainties transparent for all stakeholders. This is the only way to make valid decisions and prevent bad investments.

Our Agile Engineering Framework builds the foundation for holistically introducing agile process models in product development and offers orientation in defining concrete measures.

We developed a framework to help our clients structure their transformation programs and overcome challenges within the introduction of agile process models to take advantages of the optimization potential (article no. 1 blog series)

Figure 1: Extract from Capgemini Invent Agile Engineering Framework

Each organization is different, which is why every introduction of agile approaches must be adjusted to the respective organization’s current situation. Our framework defines five tailored action fields.

  1. Processes and methods: Agile processes and methods adapted to the company and the industry make it possible to react better to changes and optimize communication. It is important to align and deploy practices and processes to support the company’s objectives.
  2. Rapid feedback: New technologies allow for faster and more frequent feedback and minimize the cost of each iteration. The selection of the right technology and the availability for the right business areas must be mastered.
  3. Organization and governance: New organizational structures allow for the introduction of interdisciplinary teams and let them work with the necessary decision-making authority. They also improve the exchange of knowledge within the company.
  4. Cultural leadership and change: The agile mindset must be present in the management. Agile leadership, values, and methods enable a positive feedback culture, allowing failure and creating the necessary space for innovation and self-organization.
  5. Product and portfolio: A modular architecture anticipates the main directions for change in the product and decouples particularly change-intensive or sensitive areas from the rest of the product. This enables the rapid integration of new increments.

At the same time, we point out key factors that are essential to successfully fulfill specific prerequisites working in an agile set up. In our experience, the following factors are particularly important in the area of Processes and methods:

  • Identification of divisions (products, projects, processes) with a high need turning into agile.
  • Adaption of processes to the new strategic agile approach
  • Harmonization of agile and not agile processes and methods
  • Capturing of possible restrictions to agile and definition of countermeasures (e.g. ISO 9000 A-Spice)
  • Use of pilots for early knowledge gaining and acceptance.

The question remains how to introduce agile process models in your company. Learn more about this in our next blog post.

To find out more about which key factors should be considered first when introducing agile process models in hardware development and what is important for individual factors, please contact us.

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