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Kicking Off Agile Projects With The Right Focus

A critical advantage of Agile methods, especially for hardware-based projects, is getting a fast start. But how do you do this with a project charter that considers an Agile way-of-working, and without details found in typical Product Requirements Documents (PRDs)? Agile methods have great potential for speed, but teams need a clear vision, and strategic direction that guides innovation while accepting uncertainties.

Good strategic direction gives the team a solid understanding of where they’re supposed to be going, and at least a semblance of guidance on the approach to get there. To get started, product developers need to know the decision factors customers use to buy your product and the unique advantages they will value most. The team must also have key targets such as price, cost and launch timing. Give your teams the elements described below, and they can get off to the fastest possible start in the right direction. Then through the Agile process, they will make decisions and define a product that customers are sure to love.

Unique Selling Proposition

The concept of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is a key tool familiar to marketers. A good USP is like an elevator pitch—a brief statement that describes the major experiences you seek to enable for customers and the advantage you’re creating in one short statement. Here’s an example USP for a material handling company’s planned ultra-maneuverable forklift:

“The EFL2800 is the most agile solution available to optimize valuable floor space without compromising confidence and durability.”

Subjective words like “most agile” and “to optimize” are okay in a USP. At this point you want developers to ask, “What do you mean by ‘most agile’?” This statement allows the team and stakeholders to visualize the differentiating value proposition in simple terms.

Market Targets

Targets for price, cost, and timing concisely build the bridge teams need to connect customer and business considerations. Using the forklift example, these are the targets for a particular configuration:

Launch – Q1 2023 (target)

Price (to distribution) – USD 12,000 max.

Cost – USD 7,200 max.

These targets give boundaries for Agile teams to explore options and devise a plan to meet them. In the Modified Agile for Hardware Development (MAHD) Framework, Iteration Planning is the primary tool and set of activities an Agile team uses to systematically research options and make the right tradeoffs.

Customer Decision Factors

Most critical for enabling your R&D team to innovate and hit your market targets, are clear priorities about why your customers will buy your new product. Too many teams think in terms of cool features and awesome specifications without a clear understanding of which attributes will actually drive buying decisions.

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Defining a Target Customer

The figure on the right shows the forklift customer decision factors. Note that these are well aligned with the USP, with maneuverability and productivity optimization being most important. Confidence in the decision factors and priorities guides R&D on where to start focusing on innovation.

Expected Innovations

Most of our emphasis so far is from the customer perspective, but further guidance from technical leadership can also help drive the right focus. For example, working with Marketing, the Chief Engineer in the forklift company identified these characteristics for product performance that should create the desired market advantages:

Four-wheel steering with in-place rotation

Environment recognition and guidance

Enhanced operator control for speed and accuracy

Rather than taking a lot of time defining details up front that are likely to change, this high-level direction is ideal for starting Agile projects. As the team investigates, learns and defines each attribute, the product quickly gets defined and documented.

Communicating the Strategy

Kicking off a project with strategic focus can be communicated in just a few pages and ideally with a single page. As an example, the MAHD Project Brief for the forklift shows a single-page format that has been adopted for projects ranging from simple consumer devices to complex medical systems.

A project’s strategic direction must be concise and focused so that teams have a foundation to build on, and allows them to get going right away. They might start with more questions than answers, but that’s okay! The whole point of Agile is to learn and adjust quickly.

Download a Sample Agile Project Brief PDF

To learn more about Agile Project Briefs, Iteration Plans, and other agile for hardware methods, visit: www.agileforhardware.org.

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Agile for Hardware Overview

A MAHD Overview

The four-page overview provides a quick summary of the MAHD Framework, benefits and unique attributes.

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