For those who attended the Agile Automotive 2020 Conference, there quickly was the realization that project management for specifically automotive is its own beast – both powerful and complex — and “out of the box”, Silicon Valley Agile will not suffice. There needs to be a well-architected way of working, and that’s based upon a firm understanding of the unique challenges of bringing a two-ton, electromechanical, connected, autonomous quasi-living-room to market.
Agile Development, for those who are new to the concept, is an amorphous project management (and associated cultural ideal) that empowers a team by prioritizing a product’s incoming work, breaking it into smaller, well-understood, customer-centric chunks that may be estimated, and then planning the next near-term duration of development based upon a measured understanding of what the team can truly accomplish. It seems simple. But simple is never that simple. In the world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – sometimes known as VUCA – unpredictability is the norm. But Agile Development, if implemented in both process and culture, is intended to allow the team to adapt to such turmoil. As stated best by Thomas Pogodda, Vice President of Global Quality for Eberspächer Group, “The automotive industry pioneered the quality and lean movements. Agile is no counterpoint to their culture and methodologies, but on the contrary their advancement for the VUCA world.”
Mashing together several of the panelists and topics into key themes, there was an emergence of three fundamental areas of Agile Development needing the attention of engineering executives in the auto industry: end-to-end agility, “the importants” and the ongoing challenge of assessing “agile health”.
Depending upon the corporation, the definition of the term “end-to-end” has vastly different meanings: it could mean end-to-end of the product (e.g. from on-vehicle to connected-servers), end-to-end of the project (e.g. from Research ten years prior to production to DevOps ten years after production) or end-to-end of the corporation (e.g. from engineering in Germany to software testing in India to cybersecurity operations in the United States). All of these could have scaled, complex Agile Development aspects that need active oversight, grooming and strategic planning. “Project managing departments in silos (e.g. SW Architecture, SW Development, Test, Deployment) has limited benefits,” stated Hendrik Esser, Manager of Special Projects at Ericsson. “The massive benefits come from abandoning the stop-and-go of projects and inter-department handovers and instead moving to a continuous program setup with cross-functional teams using Agile planning across organizations ranging from Systems Engineering through Development to Deployment. We also adapted the service functions of Finance and Human Resources to optimize the value flow.” Complex, but powerful when used strategically.
“Transitioning the project from a small team of R&D members towards the end of 2015 to a full product platform development and industrialization spanning engineering, operations, quality, purchasing, etc. is no small feat, but worth the effort,” says Stefan Straßburger and Nils Konken, Continental AG’s
And the end-to-end definition does not even stop at the corporate walls. “Understanding how our software component supplies from Agile Release Trains matched our customers’ expectations required also understanding of the entire supply chain from core development to system integration and to the customer interface with its distinct agile flavor” stated Martin Hurich and Matthias Burger, Vice President and Director from Bosch GmbH respectively. “Managing that Agile Supply Chain is key to delivering a quality product both on-time and on-cost.” And while we’re spanning between companies, let’s not forget the customer in that end-to-end definition. One speaker pointed out the main challenge when co-developing with the customer is creating a suitable, Agile cooperation strategy. The handoffs between Product Backlogs must be coordinated and smooth for the end-to-end development to work efficiently.
End-to-end takes a lot of strategic thinking and coordination.
Functional Safety and Quality are obviously important, but not always urgent since many times “the urgents” are the feature that’s highly desired for the next release. However, project managing the balance between the importants and the urgents while making sure the documentation desired by standards (e.g. Automotive SPICE, ISO 26262) meets the needs of Quality Assurance, General Counsel and other stakeholders is crucial. The team believes they’ll get to it after this milestone, but never catches up. In the end, these aren’t mutually exclusive goals or processes. “The application of Agile methods is not conflicting with safety requirements; [in fact] it can be beneficial,” says Steffen Kuhn, the Head of Consulting at Elektrobit Automotive GmbH. “By integrating functional safety directly into the development iterations, this important work will not be postponed or forgotten. The impact of safety on architecture and requirements will be addressed in an early phase, which avoids unnecessary rework.”
One possible strategy to address some of “the importants” is automation: combine the specification with code as to automatically check and translate low-level specifications into test and code in such a way that any change requests can automatically be tested for impact analyses. Therein, the team may dramatically lower the workload for requirements engineering, quality assurance and test coverage confirmation. One speaker stated that such a strategy was a great enabler for his organization and created one of those coveted situations of lower cost, lower speed and higher quality.
Assessing Agile Health
Suppliers know what customers want to hear, and typically that involves saying they’re Agile when maybe all they know are a few buzzwords. It’s gotten so bad that the United States Department of Defense actually published a document entitled, “Detecting Agile BS” which provides a guideline to project leaders and purchasing on tactics used to feign Agile. The confusion is understandable, though, since the original Manifesto was intentionally malleable to allow for continuous improvement. In fact, Phillip Diebold from Bagilstein GmbH and Jan Hendrik Koch of IAV GmbH even stated, “There is no one-size-fits-all Agile solution; especially process or method-wise, except living a common Agile culture in the team.”
Now, though, manufacturers and Automotive SPICE Assessors need to understand, “What is healthy Agile” in a way that’s consistent and thorough. “We are simply trying to define collaboration models with practical explanations and use cases so people can understand,” explained Stefan Weber of Continental AG and Michael Huebler of BMW Group. “Agile working modes are state of the art now within companies that develop software-driven products, so it totally makes sense to also collaborate like this across company borders.“
The VDA group is attempting to finalize and publish a VDA recommendation by the end of the year. “The Yellow Print was released in May, and we are hoping to have Red Print in the coming months.”
Understanding what is considered healthy and then assessing the health is the only way to get past the now infamous “Agile BS”.