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Agile Methods Accelerate Optimization

| Author / Editor: Oliver Schönfeld / Janina Seit

Agility leads to chaos — Dr. Karsten Strehl, Central Development Methodology at Robert Bosch GmbH in Stuttgart, wants to put an end to this prejudice. Agile methods do not make current quality standards obsolete. On the contrary, the quality of the product still depends on the quality of cooperation within agile teams.

Agile methods are ideally suited for the realignment and acceleration of cumbersome product development processes — without impairing quality.
( Source: Pixabay / CC0 )

In many industries, the situation is similar: markets that seemed to be distributed over the long term are suddenly being reshuffled. Technological leaps are changing the situation, and in some cases new competitors are entering the markets. As a result, the world is changing faster, and market pressure is growing, especially due to shorter time-to-market periods. “Against this background, agile methods are ideally suited to align and accelerate rather cumbersome development processes according to the needs of the user," emphasizes Dr. Karsten Strehl, Central Development Methodology, Robert Bosch GmbH, Stuttgart.

One example of this development is given by Festo, a world-renowned supplier of components for pneumatic and electric actuators. Today, hardware and software are amalgamated into one solution to meet the future requirements of industry 4.0. “That's why we need integrated the development of software, mechanics and electronics. It’s not only the software development process that needs to be agile," says Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Frank-Michael Hoyer, Team and Project Manager, House of Software, Festo AG & Co. KG, Esslingen.

Accelerate Development Through the Waterfall Process

The company has designed its innovation development process as a waterfall method with a clearly defined goal: the period of product development had to be reduced from an average of three years to just one year. At the same time, new development methods such as rapid prototyping are increasingly being used, as well as 3D printing for both metal and plastic, in order to make expensive cost blocks in product development and toolmaking more efficient and cost-effective. “In this way, we are able to produce prototypes more quickly and successfully. At the same time, we are increasingly relying on simulations prior to the engineering process," continues Hoyer. Thanks to these tools it is now possible to develop hardware in an agile manner.


Focusing on the Bigger Picture

The Swabian Heermann Maschinenbau GmbH has also made similar experiences. “However, it is not enough to just choose one particular method," emphasizes Marco Niebling, who is responsible for agile project management at the company: " The bigger picture is decisive: What do you want to change? What goals do you want to achieve? How do you create a suitable framework for the company in which employees have enough scope for development? Only after these and other questions have been clarified can a company put together an individually optimized and agile construction strategy."

The Challenge of Individualization

One of the challenges of the mechanical engineering company is, for example, the ability to increase the degree of customization in order to meet requirements more flexibly and quickly. At the same time, the agile company is following the path of specialization and is concentrating on fewer but especially promising product areas. The medium-sized company has already made considerable progress in the form of a significantly increased number of job applications, an improved working atmosphere and higher employee satisfaction. However, the improvements are also reflected in concrete indicators such as increased profitability and the improved delivery reliability combined with a reduced use of resources.

Faster Development — Without Impairing Quality

Dr. Strehl wants to put an end to the prejudice that agility equals chaos — a serious error in reasoning. Even with agile methods, current quality standards do not become obsolete. On the contrary, the quality of the cooperation within agile teams determines the quality of the final product.

Prof. Dr. Ayelt Komus, Professor of Organization and Business Informatics at the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences, has now published the third international study on this topic, which confirms that companies that make use of agile methods achieve better results during product development and in other areas. This not only refers to shorter time-to-market. 61 % of the companies surveyed expect an optimized the time to market from agile methods. However, expectations are also high in other areas: many companies use agile methods to optimize quality (47 % — multiple answers were possible) or to reduce risks in the project (42 %).


Seizing Opportunities

"Every aspect of industrial companies is being digitized. This is one of the reasons why agility is becoming increasingly important, whether in the automotive industry or mechanical engineering or other sectors", says Prof. Komus. At the same time, he is convinced that agile methods have come to stay, and that the clock can no longer be turned back. Therefore, it is important for companies to embrace this change.

Many techniques can be analyzed and used in isolation. From daily scrum to relative estimation through to regular retrospective, there are many techniques that — if desired — also fit into conventional "waterfall" project management. The professor's conclusion is clear: "Today, we have numerous instruments at our disposal that can be perfectly combined with a conventional approach in product development and project management. Companies are urged to seize the opportunities of this development and move forward."

This article was first published by konstruktionspraxis.

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