Exploiting the innovation potential of medium-sized mechanical engineering companies through the practical application of agile methods
Authors: Thomas Weinhauser, Sophie Steinmaßl, Andreas Eursch
Abstract: Innovations have become a decisive competitive advantage. Companies must find ways to develop and establish new and, above all, suitable products, and processes even faster. Added to this are the ever-increasing product complexity, continuously rising customer requirements and a great deal of uncertainty due to constantly and sometimes radically changing market requirements. For this reason, agile methods are now being discussed even among established and successful companies in the classic mechanical and plant engineering sector to increase innovative strength and flexibility. However, due to the traditionally rather conservative orientation of the processes, the existing agile models quickly reach their limits. To combine the advantages of conventional and agile product development, hybrid process models are used, which are, however, mostly very complex and thus lose an essential advantage, the simplicity in application. The use of these models even requires a high degree of methodological competence, which medium-sized companies rarely have compared to large companies. To nevertheless make the advantages of agile models available to medium-sized companies and thus enable them to exploit their high innovation potential, a simple process model is required. The solution developed specifically for this purpose combines the simplicity of agile process models with the long-term planning of conventional models. It was developed in cooperation with a medium-sized mechanical engineering company, or its processes and requirements, which is active in the field of hydraulics. A survey of the company's development managers revealed that there is a need to adapt the existing procedure for generating innovations. However, new procedures must be introduced gradually, function in parallel with the established procedure, and be reversible if necessary. Therefore, the focus is on uncomplicated entry of developers into the application of agile methods. The model assumes no prior knowledge of agile methods and can therefore be easily applied to individual projects. It allows companies an easy entry into agile product development of physical products without having to adapt basic process flows and interfaces. The unique selling point of the model is the strict separation of the agile and plan-driven elements. Guided by simple rules, processes, roles and basic principles, the hybrid process model is quick and easy to understand. The development team is decoupled from the planning process and can focus on the product, its incremental iterative development, and the creative problem-solving process. To serve the company's interfaces and coordinate the long-term planning process, a planning team is used to plan milestones, stages, and sprints for the development team. The practicality and the ease of application of the agile elements in the development team were demonstrated in a pilot project. The consistent application of the model results, among other things, in improved communication in the development team, a rapid response to changes of any kind, and avoids waste due to context changes, waiting times, the unnecessary distribution of knowledge and information, and the costly procurement of information. The extent to which the consistent application of the model improves effectiveness and efficiency in product development projects cannot be conclusively clarified. To determine these factors, hybrid and conventional development projects must be monitored and compared.
Keywords: product development in medium, szied enterprises, design methods, agile development methodologies, hybrid product development
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