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The Agile Hardware Design Mindset.

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Moving to Agile development in hardware is more about mindset than it is about technological limitations. Let’s consider some of the limitations that are often used to resist Agile hardware development, and show how these limitations are more to do with thinking then with technology.

PCB board design and layout.

We can’t do Agile because we need to complete the full board design before sending the design for PCB fabrication and population of parts. Manufacturing is costly and takes a lot of time, so we want to minimize these costs.

Let’s examine each of these points:

Myth: Manufacturing a PCB takes a lot of time.

Facts: The last 30 years of continuous high speed innovation in PC motherboards and mobile phones has driven the PCB manufacturing business to be very quick and responsive. A five minute search for fast turnaround PCB manufacturers revealed many companies that can turn an 8 layer PCB in 24 hours. With overnight shipping, you can have your PCB in 2 days. If you plan ahead with the manufacturer to get parts ordered so it can be populated, this can be done at the same time.

Myth: Manufacturing a PCB is costly.

Facts: The costs for quick turn around PCBs are trivial when compared to the cost of an engineer waiting for hardware. You can calculate costs from a variety of quick turn manufacturers at http://www.ladyada.net/library/pcb/costcalc.html For a 3″x5″ PCB the highest cost for a 2 day turn around was $215, shipping included. For comparison, that average loaded cost of an engineer to their employer is (salary, benefits, office, etc.) is $80-200 per hour. An engineer who spends one day waiting for hardware is far more expensive then the fastest most expensive quick turn PCB manufacturer.

Myth: We need to complete the full design.

Facts: A well designed PCB is modular, with modules for CPU, memory, I/O, RF, etc. Each module is designed as a unit, with interfaces to other modules, just like software. Therefore we can design a module, or part of a module, and that completed design can be treated as a testable deliverable. For example, the CPU and the memory could be designed and shipped as a populated PCB ready for developers to start using. The developers can start to use that platform for coding while the hardware designers work on the next module. The hardware designers will need to implement some features, like a JTAG or USB port and terminate some pins so developers can use the PCB, but that is a small price to pay in exchange for getting hardware into the hands of the software developers.

Deploying iterative and Incremental hardware development.

If we change how we think of hardware from being a single physical device that has to be designed, to a set of functional modules that are deployed as hardware, then we can map the manufacturing process of PCBs to the deployment of code into production. If we can deploy functional modules into a physical device (PCB+parts) in a few days, then we can deliver hardware functionality using an iterative and incremental approach. For example we could deploy a PCB with a basic input output (I/O) circuit that meets our simplest design criteria. This circuit would be deployed into hardware and then could be used by developers for coding and testers. If it is determined from programming and testing that the simple I/O design needs changes, a revision of the I/O could be completed to make the desired improvements. This ensures that the designers are delivering a design that meets the needs of the developers and testers. Once the developers and testers were satisfied, the I/O could be evaluated by the customer to gain their feedback and ensure it meets their needs.

Iterative and Incremental firmware with the hardware.

If hardware is thought of as deployed functional modules, then firmware is the glue that enables these modules to provide customer value. Firmware engineers have numerous well understood options for software development when there is no hardware. Software simulators, emulators, evaluation boards, and FPGAs all provide different options. With every design there are business priorities and technical risks. Based on these risks and priorities the developers need to figure out how to slice the design into components of firmware and hardware that will deliver the most business value and risk reduction with each iteration. For example if I/O is risky then the hardware and firmware developers should figure out how to build, code and test the I/O module before the CPU module. For example this could be accomplished using an I/O PCB that interfaces to a CPU evaluation board.

Using business value to drive product design.

We are faced with the continual expansion of software into the hardware space. Shrinking device sizes, massive gate arrays, generic open source platforms like Arduino, and smart phones all are changing the hardware development game. However software will always need something to run on, and as more devices connect to the internet, the importance of real world interfaces will continue to expand. Great hardware developers like Hewlett and Packard always emphasized getting out of the lab and meeting your customers. As hardware is increasingly used to wire up the connected world, it is more important than ever that hardware designers find ways to quickly respond to the changing needs of their customers. Agile principles and values provide good ideas to help you get there… just replace the word software with firmware or hardware :).

PCB Art by Artist Steven Rodrig
Artwork “Post Apocalyptic Data Hunter: RONIX” by Steven Rodig at PCBCreations.com


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Wall Street Journal? New York Times? Why is Lean and Agile not a story?

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Over the last 2 years we’ve seen some pretty hard times in economies in Europe and especially the USA. Financial services and lending business were in an state of near collapse. With each day companies were announcing job cuts. Job losses in the US are higher than they have been in 30 years. Now that the economy has stopped shrinking, and markets are starting to improve, companies are facing a much more difficult business situation. Stock prices and profits have recovered in some sectors, however most companies face slow growth, and systemic changes in their marketplaces. The US consumer has lost a substantial amount of net worth. That group is not coming roaring back to consume like they have in the past. Many of the businesses that cut staff will not be hiring them back, either because they don’t need the capacity, are doing something different, or are out of business.

Many State and local governments are facing heavy shortfalls in revenue. One important reason for declining tax revenue is property taxes. Property taxes are hard to collect when the property is in foreclosure. Commercial properties are also strapped as their clients break leases or only make limited payments. These losses often result in commercial property owners going out of business. The commercial property failures significantly lag consumer mortgage foreclosures, since commercial properties are not affected until their clients start going out of business. Booming government deficits, high unemployment, slow growth, and increased competition in a global marketplace.

As bad as the economy is now, I am sure it is not as bad as Japan’s collapsed economy just after World War Two. That is when Toyota decided to enter the automotive business. 60 years later Toyota leads the industry by most benchmarks, and are more profitable then the next 4 automotive companies combined. During this recession GM and Chrysler collapsed, and all three big auto companies required billions of taxpayer dollars just to survive as much smaller companies. At the same time Toyota took thousands of idled workers and launched retraining programs so they would be ready for the next generation of manufacturing, new assembly systems, and upcoming products.

The great recession of 2008/9 was bad for airlines, many shrank 10 to 15% and some went bankrupt. During this same recession Southwest Airlines managed to grow by 1%, while paying its pilots more than any other US Carrier. Southwest has been profitable for 36 years straight.

There is a major story that is being completely overlooked by the American Media. That story is how some companies have found a way to gain not one or two years of competitive advantage, but 10-20 years competitive advantage. How some companies consistently innovate and thrive, while others consistently fail to meet the expectations of their customers, employees, investors, and the public. These under-performing companies may have survived the recession, however unlike GM and the banks, there is no bailout coming from cash strapped governments to save them.

What do successful companies like Toyota and Southwest airlines do differently? Can they provide a road map for other organizations? What stopped GM from changing and how to recognize those patterns in other companies?

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are missing the boat for their readers. There is an important story that European and American business leaders are largely clueless on. I know because of the conversations I have with their VPs, managers and staff. The executives running those companies have a fiduciary duty to get up to speed and start to redesign their organizations so that their companies stop surviving and start thriving.

Dilbert.com


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Agile 2010 Talks on Large Scale Agile and Coaching Teams

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Agile 2010 is only a few weeks away, and it should be a very good conference this year. After the being the Producer of last year’s main stage, I am looking forward to being more involved with doing presentations and participating as both a speaker and a listener. I also really enjoy this conference for the all the great people I spend time with at the talks and in the halls. I hope we will see you in Orlando!

On Tuesday August 10 I will co-presenting with Jurgen deSmet on the Large Scale and Distributed Agile Stage.

Cooking the Product Stew

What is a stew? A stew is made from various ingredients you have around, left overs, new ingredients that go together well, and others that are filling but need lots of sauce. The enterprise software market is made up of products that are a stew of software on many legacy platforms that have evolved over a long period by many hands. Taking an enterprise software product to Agile methods is a challenge. In a uniquely European context, this presentation will draw from the ongoing agile adoption in a multi-location multi-team enterprise product with 460 staff in 4 countries and 5 locations.

On Wednesday August 11 I will be co-presenting with Yves Hanoulle on the Agile Coaching Stage.

What I learned from burning my parents’ house down!

In July 1991 Yves’ parents went on holiday leaving him (19 years old) to guard their house. On August 1 at 19 hour 36 minutes Yves parent’s house burns down. It was Yves fault. And yet it was the best thing that happened to him till 2002. If you want to know why, come to our session. This interactive talk will show you why a crisis is a good thing. We make the link to agile transitions and how coaches can use a crisis. Why do people change? Do we consider their interests when making a change? This talk is based in part on the book “A Sense of Urgency” by change management expert John Kotter.


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Sustaining Great Teams

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The steps necessary to sustain high performance in teams are different from those needed to get them started. The journey for adopting Agile is a long one. In most companies you can count on 3-5 years of sustained effort in order to really cement Agile into the enterprise. Depending on your perspective, you might never be done. We encourage and believe in Lean Management Philosophies espoused in “The Toyota Way”, “Lean Thinking” and other management books. If you choose to adopt that kind of culture, you are never done improving and are always on the journey to better performance. With that far of a horizon, it is critical to correctly support teams in order to sustain their interest, passion, and productivity.

Management Support is one critical aspect. Management from line management to Senior Management need to be visible at regular intervals. They need to understand the work the team does and more importantly understand what gets in the way of their work. Teams need to see managers passionate about removing barriers and following through on their commitments to help the team. Almost nothing will deflate team morale faster than false promises to help fix major barriers.

The processes must continue to improve. Teams will relatively quickly become efficient, creative, and self managing. If the processes on which they rely do not adapt to their needs, become flexible, and move faster and faster then teams will degrade. The processes that your organization follows will either support the culture you hope to build or hold you hostage to a culture that does not support the vision for the organization.

Ongoing training is important in order to arm teams with the key skills they need to continuously improve. It might be technical competence in Continuous Integration or Test Driven Development. It might be Lean training on Value Stream mapping or Kanban methods. It might be Coach training in Systems Thinking or Facilitation. Whatever the teams identify as the next set of skills necessary to move the team forward, the organization must be prepared to make this investment in their people.

Through constant, visible management support, continuous evolution of processes, and on going training for teams an organization can lay the building blocks to sustain great teams and hopefully get better and better performance from them. There are certainly lots of other elements that go into great teams, yet these three areas seem to be a tourniquet on teams when they aren’t there.


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Agile 2008 Toronto August 4-8

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Agile 2008 is coming, and we’d like to invite you to participate. Deadlines are quickly approaching for participants to submit proposals. We encourage you to document and submit your agile experiences, training ideas, practices, and how you are succeeding with Agile and Lean. We also want to hear about development practices, organizational change, and how ideas from Lean, Six Sigma, and other process improvement initiatives compliment or conflict with Agile. Agile is a small but rapidly growing community and Agile 2008 promises to be the most innovative and successful Agile conference yet.

Innovel’s David Douglas is participating in Agile 2008 as a reviewer of the French language Stage. David is submitting proposals on Agile in non-IT projects and decision making in Lean and Agile environments.

Robin Dymond is participating in Agile 2008 as an Assistant Producer of the Learning and Education Stage, and a reviewer of the Agile User Experience and usability stage with colleague Jeff Patton. Robin is submitting proposals on Product Owner training, Integrating Lean and Agile, and other topics.

We look forward to seeing you at Agile 2008!

Agile 2008 Banner


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Accelerating Your Business

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 In the face of increasing cost pressure, fast moving competitors and faster moving markets, how can your business thrive? Innovel helps large scale enterprises develop sustained competitive advantage. Our goal is to give your people and organization the tools needed for sustained innovation and market advantage for the long term.

Our clients have experienced the following benefits:

  • 80% reduction in time to market for new capabilities on a complex IT Platform
  • A critical business operations process reduced from 70 to 10 days
  • Employee surveys that show significant improvement in morale
  • “This has changed the way we do work” – Senior Executive

Let us show you a truly different way to organize and deliver value to your customers with unprecedented speed.