By Amy Rowell, Rowell AssociatesAs the demand for “smart” products (e.g., smartphones, smart cars and even smart appliances) grows, product manufacturers face a daunting challenge—how to accelerate the design and development of these complex products. With increasing levels of embedded software, connectivity and complex mechanical/electrical/electronic subsystems, such products come with a unique set of challenges—the ability to integrate and align physical product development alongside hardware and software development; to respond to and more readily deliver customer-requested product enhancements; and the ability to more effectively support collaborative, multi-disciplinary decision-making.
To address these kinds of challenges, PTC recently introduced AgileWorx, an Agile-based tool designed to support product engineering teams engaged in complex product development. AgileWorx provides a central hub where engineering teams can—according to PTC, “visualize work in progress, prioritize activities, identify dependencies and remove impediments.”
While Agile practices have been applied successfully for more than a decade in the software development realm, many organizations struggle to apply Agile principles in product engineering. Some critics argue that it simply isn’t practical to apply Agile principles in physical product development—that unlike software development, which may benefit from the flexibility afforded by an Agile development environment to address the as-needed bug fix or software upgrade—product engineering requires structure and definition and a well-defined process up-front. Yet more and more, product development is anything but well-defined. Increasingly, product requirements are not static; products are constantly being improved or modified via software updates, or changing form based on customer-driven enhancements.
This is where an Agile development environment can provide some key advantages. By definition, it is a methodology that embraces readjustment as needed—and one that enables a team to redirect its collective efforts, as needed on a project. It offers flexibility—and accountability—but makes everyone a stakeholder in the effort. It invites customer input throughout the process, and prioritizes change requests, based on customer feedback, not a set of potentially out-of-date product specs. In essence, Agile product development provides a collaborative development environment whose mission it is to accelerate the development process in the wake of an ever-changing, ever-evolving set of requirements.
In the case of AgileWorx, such a secure, collaborative Agile development environment, enabled by a cloud-based platform—comes at a price of $700/user/year, making it accessible to engineering teams both inside and outside of large organizations. It is not being sold as an enterprise-wide tool, yet may find itself growing into one as it gains traction among those organizations seeking to support complex product development and integrate their ALM (application lifecycle management), PLM (product lifecycle management) and CAD teams. Interestingly, although both IBM and Rally offer enterprise-level Agile tools to support this type of collaborative product development, and cloud-based Agile tools are available from companies such as SCRUMwise, this is the first such tool from one of the major PLM providers.
Will it succeed where other collaborative product development tools and methodologies have failed? It just might—especially considering the price point—and the fact that manufacturers of complex products really have no choice but to embrace at least some form of Agile product development in their product development efforts. The fact is, there’s no turning back the clock on the rise and adoption of smart, connected products, and the IoT—while still in its infancy—promises to become a major force in the marketplace. Altogether, what this means is that tomorrow’s—indeed many of today’s – products are a far cry from the once heralded mechanical marvels of yesteryear. And while the physical design of tomorrow’s products will remain a key factor—they will increasingly be dependent upon what their software will enable them to do. Which is why—at the end of the day—tools like AgileWorx won’t just be a nice-to-have product—they’ll be a must-have tool.
The real challenge? Getting engineering teams to adapt to and adopt these new Agile methodologies—especially if it means learning a new tool that can get in the way of getting the job done. In that regard, the jury is still out on AgileWorx—after all, it’s still quite new, and as such, still unproven. But out of the starting gate—it looks promising.
Amy Rowell is an industry analyst for topics related to innovation in next-generation product design and development. Send email about this commentary to firstname.lastname@example.org.