Agile hardware development

Photo of Sohrab Salimi
Sohrab Salimi

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Agile hardware development or the agile development of physical products means using agile principles and methods in the development process and working according to Scrum, for example.

Unlike in agile software development, however, in agile hardware development complete product increments cannot be delivered after each sprint. This is because the features of a physical product usually only become usable at the end of the development cycle.

Nevertheless, it also makes sense to use Scrum in hardware development. Because it allows you and your team to deal with the complexity of requirements and the uncertainty of what exactly your customer needs and how you can best meet those needs.

Now, how can the manufacturing process in HW development also be divided into small units of work to take advantage of agile principles?

How does agile hardware development work?

Instead of trying to complete each sprint with a deliverable hardware increment (which is almost impossible in practice), you and your team of hardware developers can proceed as follows:

  • You break down the overall product into mechanical or functional components according to customer requirements.
  • You produce presentable intermediate results in the sprints like:
    -- (virtual) models,
    -- 3D-printed product parts,
    -- drawings or
    -- simulations.
  • You get regular feedback from the customer to evaluate these intermediate results after each cycle and to optimize them if necessary.
  • The product owner defines steps after which you can, for example, integrate new functionalities into your product. To keep track of the progress of your product development, working with a burndown chart can be useful.

Tip: Length of sprints in agile HW development.
Sprints for hardware developers are usually twice as long as those for software developers, i.e. 4 weeks instead of 2.

Advantages of agile hardware development

The advantages of agile working methods for hardware development are almost congruent with those of agile software development:

  • Development speed and adherence to deadlines increase due to prioritization of tasks.
  • Work efficiency increases because the development team is protected from unplanned ad-hoc tasks.
  • Customer requirements are focused and thus better served.
  • The quality of the product is increased through continuous adjustments.
  • Communication among each other becomes more direct, easier and faster by working in the SCRUM team.
  • Due to the personal responsibility and the self-organization in the development team, the members are more motivated and work more dedicated.

Some industries, such as the automotive industry, are discovering more and more of these benefits when developing their hardware or products and are increasingly welcoming Agile transformation into their organizations.

Conclusion on Agile Hardware Development.

If physical products are being developed in your organization, using Agile methods can be beneficial. Unlike Agile software development, Agile hardware development does not deliver complete product increments after each sprint. Instead, mechanical or functional components are produced as intermediate results in order to be able to obtain feedback from the customer at an early stage and on a regular basis.

This type of hardware development can not only support the efficiency and adherence to schedules of the development team, but also significantly increase the quality of the products.
Please also take a look at our MAN case study!

Case Study: Tesla

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