Agile in Hardware

Ever since the beginning of the new millennia, Agile has taken the software development world by storm, with its fresh and radical philosophies and its ways of working. Working in an Agile manner has helped software teams from all over the globe to respond better to changing market conditions and to increasing customer expectations.

In recent years, software has been eating the world, becoming ubiquitously present in physical products like cars, electronics, or electric appliances. Having experienced great success with Agile in their software development teams,  manufacturers have started to ask themselves if the Agile mindset and practices can be adapted to hardware development as well.

But still, do hardware and software development have anything in common?  Well, in fact, they do share some commonalities: For both areas, time to market is critical, as well as the possibility of improving client collaboration with the client, during the development phase.  Also, let’s not forget about the obsession to customer value and the reduction of waste.

But, on the other hand, there are some things that differentiate them. First off, changing a hardware product is much harder. Think about changing the placement of a car’s door, versus changing the placement of a call to action. Also, one other major difference is that in hardware development, the main cost is comprised of machinery, which can be much more expensive.

Hardware and Software

Still, what are some concrete Agile practices that can be successfully applied to hardware development?

When talking about process design, Scrum has been used with a great success in hardware, from the development of microchips, to the creation of fighter jets. With its iterative and incremental approach, it allows for fast decision making, continuous integration and full transparency.

Another popular technique is the creation of an MVP. Some may say that it is much harder for a manufacturer to create an MVP, compared to its software counterpart. Still, with the advent of technologies such as 3D printing, augmented reality and others, an adventurous innovator may bring their idea to life and assess its potential just as easy as a software developer can.

Furthermore, let’s not forget about continuous testing, verification and validation. Just like in software, having these activities performed repeatedly, in an iterative way, greatly reduces risk. Today, they can be easily automated and simulated, greatly reducing the lag they impose on the overall development process.

In conclusion, although the use of Agile in hardware manufacturing is still in its pioneering days, the results are quite promising and visionary companies have started implementing it at scale.

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