From Ideation to Execution: Five Agile Practices for Rapid Development in Manufacturing

Posted by Maziar Adl
Maziar Adl
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Illustration: Ideas and SystemsIt doesn’t matter what industry you look at; manufacturing companies face constant pressure to innovate, improve efficiency, and deliver high-quality products quickly. Adopting agile practices can significantly enhance a company’s ability to respond to these demands and make the process from idea to product launch more efficient. However, it’s not as simple as following a playbook for product development.

Manufacturers manage multiple teams building everything from smaller components, to assembling the hardware, to developing the software programs that give their products an edge over the competition. Different teams need different strategies to perform in Agile and stay competitive. Here, we outline five essential agile practices manufacturers can implement to bridge the gap between creativity and execution, ensuring faster and more efficient production cycles.


1. Embrace Cross-Functional Teams

Illustration: demographic and market segmentationOne critical Agile practice in manufacturing is to increase the response times of development teams by creating cross-functional teams. When those teams work in isolation, quick changes are challenging. Because cross-functional teams consist of members from different departments who work collaboratively towards a common goal, they’re focused on achieving those goals sooner. 

This practice breaks down silos, fostering better communication and a broader perspective on problem-solving. When different product teams continuously work together, they’re better equipped to make faster pivots in response to market or customer demands


Cross-Functional Implementation in a Manufacturing Context

Cross-functional teams make sense in a manufacturing context. Depending on the size of a company’s operations, these teams may meet in person or virtually. The essential factor is that these teams can access real-time information to make true collaboration possible


Form Diverse Teams

When diverse teams bring their varying perspectives, insights, and opinions together in one room (physical or virtual), innovation is more likely to happen. To ensure a well-rounded representation, companies should Include members from design, engineering, production, sales, quality assurance, and any other key members with a stake in the product.


Foster Collaboration

Just because a group of people are in the same room doesn’t guarantee cooperation. Companies need the right tools to facilitate collaboration. Regularly scheduled meetings also ensure team alignment, no matter how busy things become. 


Empower Decision-Making

Cross-functional teams may have genius insights on product improvement. Still, those ideas will stay in the meeting room unless they feel empowered to make decisions autonomously. Hierarchical approval processes are notorious for killing ideas and product improvements. 

Companies can establish clear guidelines for their product teams to help them decide independently within specific criteria. Companies that give their teams autonomy are better equipped to keep up with the competition. 


2. Keep Your Software Teams Agile 

Illustration: software teamComplex product development requires cross-collaboration between software and hardware teams for various reasons, from syncing roadmap cadences to coordinating release dates to sharing ideas. These teams must work well together to ensure that products meet high-quality standards and are delivered on time. 

It may not be possible to follow a pure Agile process on the hardware side. Still, software teams should remain Agile while coordinating schedules with the other stakeholders. Agility can be achieved by prioritizing backlog, prototyping, and cross-collaboration.


User Stories a2nd Backlog Prioritization

User stories are simple descriptions of a feature from the perspective of the end user, outlining the desired functionality and benefits. Backlog prioritization involves organizing these user stories in order of importance to ensure that the most critical tasks are addressed first.


Unified Backlog

Create a single product backlog that includes both hardware and software tasks. This unified approach ensures that all team members are aware of the overall project priorities and dependencies.


Collaborative Prioritization

Involve both hardware and software teams in backlog grooming sessions. This collaboration helps identify dependencies, coordinate schedules, and align efforts toward common goals.


Define Clear User Stories

Ensure that user stories are well-defined and consider the perspectives of hardware and software requirements. This clarity helps both teams understand the scope and objectives of each task.

A unified backlog and collaborative prioritization foster better communication, ensure alignment on project priorities, and streamline the development process, reducing the risk of misalignment between hardware and software teams.


Follow the Scrum Framework

The Scrum framework is an agile methodology used in software development that emphasizes iterative development, regular feedback, and cross-functional collaboration. It involves roles such as Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team, as well as artifacts like sprints, sprint planning, and daily stand-ups.


Joint Sprint Planning

Product teams can conduct sprint planning sessions that involve both reps from the hardware and software teams. This joint planning helps synchronize efforts, set realistic goals, and identify potential roadblocks early on.


Integrate Daily Stand-Ups

Hold daily stand-up meetings where both hardware and software team members share updates, discuss progress, and address any impediments. This regular communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and can quickly resolve issues.

The Scrum framework promotes transparency, fosters a culture of continuous improvement, and ensures that both hardware and software teams are aligned and working towards common objectives.


3. Adopt Iterative Development

Illustration: agile processAgile planning and processes may make natural sense in software development, but they can also be adapted and applied to physical product development. One method is iterative development. This requires breaking down the production process into smaller, manageable cycles, allowing for continuous testing, feedback, and improvement.


Divide the Process

To split the production cycle into phases, product teams need to switch to a process of prototyping, testing, and final production. This allows problems to be discovered and solved sooner rather than at the end. It also helps avoid costly errors that wouldn’t be discovered until much later in the stage. 


Frequent Feedback & Incremental Improvement

With cross-functional teams, it’s easier to seek regular feedback from stakeholders as well as customers. The agility portion comes into play when product teams use that feedback to make iterative improvements, ensuring each cycle results in a better product. Continuous integration and continuous deployment reduce the risk of large-scale failures, allow for early detection of issues, and ensure the final product meets customer expectations.


4. Implement Kanban Boards

Illustration: kanban boardsKanban is a visual project management tool that helps track work progress, identify bottlenecks, and improve workflow efficiency. These boards provide a clear, real-time overview of the production process, helping teams manage workload, improve efficiency, and maintain steady progress. The benefit of this system is it fits well with Agile processes while ensuring transparency. 


The Benefits of Kanban Boards

With the right product management platform, both software and hardware teams can use Kanban boards to manage tasks and timelines. 

Visual Workflow: Creating a Kanban board to visualize tasks across different stages of production gives an overview of progress.

Limit Work in Progress (WIP): Setting limits on the number of tasks in each stage can help prevent overloading and potential bottlenecks in the process.

Continuous Monitoring: Regularly updating the board to reflect the current status of projects helps managers identify areas needing attention.


5. Utilize Agile Product Management Software

path-to-targetWhen it comes to complex products, such as hardware that integrates software systems, product management teams require robust product management software to track portfolios, establish product roadmaps, and effectively plan and prioritize components and ideas. They require all this while having an easy-to-use platform that keeps stakeholders connected, up-to-date, and collaborating efficiently. 

Agile product management software helps streamline project planning, tracking, and collaboration, ensuring all team members are aligned and informed.


Select the Right Tool

Choose software that suits your manufacturing needs, such as tools for scheduling, inventory management, and collaboration, along with product roadmap and product portfolio management. Tools cannot fix broken systems, but systems cannot be efficient without Agile tools to support them. 


Train Teams

Provide adequate training to ensure all team members can effectively use the software. The cross-functional collaboration will work better when all stakeholders are comfortable using the software on their own and together. 


Integrate Systems

When you can integrate the software with your existing systems, you’ll ensure seamless data flow and comprehensive oversight. Choose a product management software with integrations with the tools you’re already using or one with API customization options for easier implementation.

Agile product development and management software enhances transparency, improves coordination, and provides real-time insights into project status, enabling more informed decision-making.


Product Roadmap Software for Agile Manufacturers

Agility and adaptability are key to maintaining a competitive edge. Product roadmap software tailored for agile manufacturers is a crucial tool in achieving these objectives. By integrating rapid development and other agile methodologies, manufacturers can ensure their product development processes are both user-centric and responsive to changing market demands. Try Gocious product roadmapping software by scheduling a free demo to see how we can help keep your teams agile.

Topics: Manufacturing, Product Development, Agile

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