Making Lean/Agile Work

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Businessman designing a project

Product life cycles are shrinking fast in high-tech industries. Companies face pressure to perform on measures that often are at odds with each other: speeding up innovation, managing increasing complexity and keeping costs under control.

Most companies turn to modular architectures to break complex projects into manageable parts, according to “design rules” that organize the pieces into a hierarchy and allow for governance.

“The set of design rules determines who can access what kind of information,” explains Rick Kazman, professor of information technology management at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. “Ignorance is strength—that fact that I don’t know, and don’t need to know, how you implement the rules you present to me is a good thing. I can only focus on so much detail. So not having to think about the details of how you do your thing frees up my mind.

Wikispeed, a group of volunteers from around the world, used lean/agile techniques with modular architecture to develop a car with gas mileage of 100 miles per gallon, or 1.5 liters per 100 kilometers. And they did it in three months.

“It was the shortest design cycle ever from idea to road-certified vehicle,” says Joe Justice, chief executive of Wikispeed and president of hardware at Scrum Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts, which trains and coaches companies on implementing Scrum techniques. Scrum is an organizational framework for fast software development.

Group Of Designers Having Meeting Around Table In OfficeIt’s an agile way to manage a project, Mr. Justice says, offering companies less complex governance. Though the idea started for software development, “all companies now are software companies,” he adds. Loosely coupled modules allow hardware, as well as software, to be developed in one-week cycles.

At this rate of change, long-term planning requires a shift toward agility, notes J.J. Sutherland, chief product owner at Scrum Inc. “People would lay out a five-year plan and spend hundreds of millions building [the product]. And halfway through, they would realize that what they were making wasn’t what they need. But they can’t change, because of the cost,” he says.

The Scrum framework involves five short, focused meetings a week, each with a specific agenda and participants trained on what they are to do in each meeting.

It’s modeled on professional sports, where everybody knows what they have to do in each play,” Mr. Justice says.

The work is divided into small modules and the teams into small cross-functional groups of three to nine people. The arrangement provides teams with both ignorance—they don’t need to get bogged down in other groups’ work—and also transparency and visibility into what is being built and what is actually going to be delivered and when.

“The act of teamwork makes everything visible. It becomes part of the actual workflow,” Mr. Sutherland says.

Maintaining independent modules allows for them to be changed without having to change the entire system. But that only works if the design rules are respected, and in the real world, many systems have design flaws, Dr. Kazman says.

“Software systems degrade,” he explains. “That means that over time, developers are going to spend more and more time and effort trying to make changes and fix bugs and deal with the accidental complexity that has accumulated. That means less energy goes into the actual business of your business, like adding features that your customers care about.”

programmer profession - man writing programming code on laptopBecause such degradation happens so incrementally it goes unnoticed, then ignored, until it reaches a crisis level that requires a concerted cleanup. “It becomes the new normal and people just accept it,” Dr. Kazman says. “A lot of the time, developers aren’t aware of the problems. They know they have a yucky feeling but don’t know exactly what to fix.”

Tools can help to automatically identify design flaws. Tooling can determine the number of bugs in the flawed part of the system compared with the well-structured part. At some point, continuing development with the bugs slowing everything down will cost more than just fixing the problems.

Architects need to be proactive thought leaders in terms of promoting modularity and design rules,” Dr. Kazman says. “They need to teach, audit and give examples. They need to be the gatekeeper to ensure that the rules are followed and, if not, that there’s a conscious action to fix the problem.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

INNODESIGN: evolving great design through cloud-based collaboration

By Alyssa
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It’s no secret that today’s consumers are demanding.   They insist on innovative products with interesting design…and their tastes are constantly evolving.  Keeping pace with these fluid desires and needs is among the most significant challenges today’s product-focused organizations face.

im01INNODESIGN, one of the top ten design firms in the world, has a strong heritage of staying on top of consumer preferences and trends.  Knowing that today’s Experience Economy is creating greater demand than ever for new and unique products, the company set off on a mission to improve the ways they shared design ideas and streamline their design processes.

To support an open and collaborative approach to design, INNODESIGN adopted Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the cloud and its HT body industry solution experience.  Now, INNODESIGN stylists can generate and evaluate more design ideas and speed their transformation to become engaging products.  One of the ways these solutions help accelerate products to the market is that the CATIA application eliminates manual work by recording design changes within the platform.  Another is that it offers the power to easily communicate design intent to clients by giving them a realistic view of what the future product will look like.

innodesign-02The solutions are also being used in South Korea’s first Design Accelerator Lab (DXL-Lab), which INNODESIGN’s CEO, Youngse Kim, founded in order to provide Korean startups with a place to get their projects off the ground. One of DXL-Lab’s missions is to give these fledgling companies access to world-class technologies and teach them how to use them to develop their projects.  The Dassault Systèmes solutions help meet the Lab’s motto of ‘Design Together’ by offering a cloud-based platform where designers can collaborate to create exciting concepts.

The ­early results are impressive.  The first product created by the DXL-Lab is a foldable electric bicycle with an innovative wheel. The product will be manufactured this year.


To discover more about how INNODESIGN is staying on the cutting-edge of design through digital technologies and inspiring a new generation of creativity, check out our recent video and written case study.




Left brain, meet right brain

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Three Jigsaw Puzzle Pieces on Table

When Louis Henry Sullivan said, “Form ever follows function,” he was talking about architecture of buildings. But today his 19th-century credo is cited in many other spheres where engineering and design interact, including technology and software.

The lines are blurring, though, so that in the future, engineering and design will be seamlessly integrated.

Good designers are engineers,” says Blade Kotelly, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and vice president of design and consumer experience at Jibo Inc., which makes a social robot for the home. At the same time, customers are no longer as wowed by raw technology and they expect an easy, and aesthetic, user experience.

Design runs to the core of things,” he adds. “Large companies realize they’re being outdone by smaller companies that are putting design at the center of their thinking.”

Brainstorming Brainstorm Business People Design ConceptsThis design-thinking approach can be hard for engineers to understand, Mr. Kotelly says: “The beginning of the design process looks like very little is happening, because the designers are trying to get their brains around the problem fully. Before that, they ask whether the problem is even a good one to solve. Then they figure out what’s going to make the solution successful, then they begin the typical design process of research, prototyping, testing, iterating.”

Modular structures or open-source components that can be swapped in or out in a modular way reduce the risk of change, so “you can iterate faster,” he says.

“It’s important to think architecturally about the system—how it breaks out at the top level and the smaller and smaller components—to be able to observe technology as the landscape is changing,” Mr. Kotelly says.

The Internet of Things is making it possible to create systems as never before. However, we’re likely to soon stop talking about the IoT as it becomes the norm.

“It’s like plastics in the 1960s,” says Dirk Knemeyer, a founder of Involution Studios, a Boston-area software design studio. “The distinction of things being plastic was super-important. A couple of decades passed, and plastic things are just things.”

In the same way, “in the future, everything that is digital and many things that are not will be in the Internet of Things,” he says.

Systems require holistic thinking. And that requires integrated teams. “Getting to a successful integrated model that puts design in an appropriate strategic place can be challenging,” Mr. Knemeyer says. “It requires overcoming the biases and preconceptions of stakeholders who are already in place and who often have a skeptical view of design and creative expression as part of business. They also have existing fiefdoms they control, and fear that order might be upset by redesign of people and processes.”

Tearing down management silos provides a new problem-solving methodology and mindset that can augment the traditional perspectives, whether financial, operational or technological.

The engineering perspective is raw capability: what is the range of possibilities technology can do,” Mr. Knemeyer says. “Design says, ‘from these technologies, here are the things that can be done specific to the needs of customers.’”

Addressing customer needs is at the core of high-impact design, or design that brings a meaningful change in increasing revenues and reducing costs, he adds.

Business People Team Teamwork Working Meeting ConceptAt the same time, design thinking doesn’t just create efficiencies, but new ideas, says Mathias Kirchmer, managing director of BPM-D, a West Chester, Pennsylvania, consultancy that helps companies increase performance through cross-functional business and information-technology initiatives.

In the classic approach, a company starts mapping the processes it needs to accomplish, then optimizing so the processes will be carried out efficiently, then writing the actual software, then implementing or installing it. “It’s very inside-out driven,” Dr. Kirchmer says. “In today’s world, that’s a huge problem. First, it’s too slow. We need a faster approach. Second, the inside-out view doesn’t deliver results to drive profitable growth. It doesn’t improve the customer experience sufficiently. It’s good to be more efficient, but that doesn’t make enough of a difference for the client and move the organization to the next performance level.”

Companies compete in just 15% of their processes, he says. The rest is commodity—that is, matching competitors rather than differentiating beyond them. That high-impact 15% requires innovation enabled through design thinking.

Dr. Kirchmer sees four aspects of design thinking:

• empathy to look at high-impact processes from a customer point of view;
• transfer of ideas from unrelated fields to introduce innovation;
• storytelling to communicate the customer journey and intended innovations in a way that will resonate with all the involved teams;
• rapid prototyping to quickly get to the visual design of user interfaces and software development.

The melding of disciplines means that in the future, designers will need to be more knowledgeable about core science or core engineering. “The way science is moving is going to pull all of us into a more quantified scientific environment,” Mr. Knemeyer says.


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

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