Agile: From Software to Hardware

What are the most effective tools in the Agile Software toolkit? Can these tools be applied to Hardware and other types of product development programs? These questions were the focus of a 2013 study of nearly 20 companies, mostly Silicon Valley technology firms. Our interviews with experienced managers found that daily standup meetings, burndown charts, team culture and customer ownership were the aspects of Agile methodologies that had the greatest impact on software development.

All of these aspects of Agile are also applicable to non-software development programs. It is not a question of if Agile is applicable to Hardware but of how to apply it. The cultural aspects of Agile software – the Agile “attitude” our respondents mentioned – are readily applicable to other types of programs. Flexibility, trust, team empowerment, and frequent communication between team members are foremost among these cultural traits.

Significant differences between software and hardware, such as tooling and, in some cases, lengthy supply chains, necessitate a bridge from agile software programs to mixed programs. This bridge includes:

• Integrating sprints with hardware integration points

• Placing software engineers on the hardware team to buffer the interface

• Using simulators and emulators for early and continuous integration

Our study also found that experienced practitioners involve customers and suppliers early and often – including having customers participating in Development Validation Testing (DVT). They build variants of key features in DVT to give them the greatest flexibility in areas such as the User Interface and RF layout, even though this greatly increases the cost of the build. They postpone final software and firmware decisions until the last available moment. This just-in-time approach to decision making puts customer requirements first and extends the Agile “attitude” to mixed development programs.

Our white paper on this study will be posted soon to our site.