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Hélène’s column: Scrum in Hardware


This topic takes more and more place in the development strategies of a lot of companies not only in Germany. Every day, I am in contact with organisations and teams interested in implementing Scrum or agile principles, mostly international corporates. I would like to share with you on a regular basis the experiences and successes as well as the questions that often arise in such situations. I will also try to share insights concerning technological development which may support a broader agile implementation in hardware development or may inspire engineers to give it a try. This is the purpose of this „column“: share, reflect, inspire.

This year I only gave 6 trainings about Scrum in hardware and we had lots of fun and

  • I wish that I would meet engineers every day – to challenge their current ways of working, to develop great products, reinventing ways on which we can work faster, smarter and closer.
  • I wish that the Scrum-community in Hardware will be as large as in software development one day.
  • I wish that we will change the way of developing products and that we will work together to aim at higher purposes and make an impact on peoples‘ life and our environment.

I am deeply convinced that the agile way can support us in making it reality.

So, let’s start

If you are looking for a source of inspiration before starting with Scrum in hardware or before you change the way of developing products for being more agile in it, take a look at Elon Musk and especially the story of SpaceX. At the heart of his disruptive approach are Musk’s skills as a software developer and his ability to apply them to machines. His unconventional way of thinking is grounded in his ability to be an interdisciplinary and cross functional team entirely on his own, integrating software, electronics, advanced materials and physics. You will find the same mindset and the influence of software engineering when you take a look at the acquisition of Nascent Objects by Facebook, Nascent Objects was a two year old startup at the time of the acquisition, specializing in modular consumer electronics platforms. Facebook’s goal is to design and prototype new products with less effort and more speed. Regina Dugan, Head of Facebook’s research facility „Building 8“ said: „Together, we hope to create hardware at a speed that’s more like software.“

So every time I get answers like „It’s not the way we are doing things“, „I don’t think it is even possible“, „We have to follow compliance and corporate processes“ or „Products of such complexity usually take that long“ etc. when talking to engineers … I think of Elon! This guy imagined it, tried it, did it! And he did so in areas of business that were not the easiest ones and when everybody else was convinced that it was impossible.

What did Musk do? He rejected conventional thinking about developing cars, rockets and solar energy. In a world where cars are developed, designed and built quite in the same way since decades, he developed new ideas from scratch and he refused to manage his company like aerospace companies are usually managed. I would like to pick out two examples for Musk’s approach in the development of SpaceX. You may recognise that these principles are very similar to the ones we apply in using Scrum in hardware.

  1. Co-location and interdisciplinary work 
    I spend hours, weeks and sometimes even months trying to convince companies to put all people involved together, as close as possible to each other and to the product/prototype. One of the keys to success of SpaceX is how the office is arranged: „Desks (are) interspersed around the factory so that computer scientists and engineers designing the machines could sit with welders and machinists building the hardware. (…) This approach is SpaceX major break with traditional aerospace companies used to separate engineering groups and machinists by thousands of miles“, or „ young and white-collar engineers interacted with blue-collar assembly line workers, and they all seemed to share a genuine excitement for what they were doing. It felt like a radical start-up company.“
  2. Prototyping – build-learn cycle principle
    Build and learn quickly is part of Elon Musk’s philosophy. Using new machines and processes in order to speed up development as well as production is another trade mark of Musk. For example, the SuperDraco Engine (of the Dragon 2) is the first engine ever entirely built by a 3-D printer that went into space! It is nothing less than a revolution in an industry that is used to „produce“ design and requirement documents and project reviews in a high administrative way. Radical innovators frequently use prototypes in the early phases to interact with potential users. In Scrum in Hardware we are using prototyping as one of the most effective mechanisms to foster discussion within a cross functional team, with stakeholder and partners and of course with users.

Keep inspired and share your experience!

My must read recommendation: Ashlee Vance: Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future